Down players didn't believe - Benny Coulter
Ulster Senior Football Championship
ALLSTAR forward Benny Coulter says the Down players “didn’t believe” they could beat Monaghan after watching the Mourne county slump to their heaviest-ever Championship defeat last Sunday.
Eamonn Burns’ side will have counted themselves unlucky to trail by three at half-time after a spirited first 35 minutes, but the nature of their second-half collapse made grim viewing for Down supporters.
The reigning Ulster champions outscored the Mourne men 2-13 to 0-3 after the break and Coulter says they were made to pay for a host of schoolboy errors: “It was hard to watch in the second-half,” he said.
“Even in the first-half, the boys didn’t believe they could win it. We had so many opportunities, boys weren’t taking them. I thought Monaghan were there for the taking - in the first-half, they were very average.
“[After half-time] we just collapsed, there was no leadership in the team, we lost the ball going through tackles and Monaghan went down the field and scored two goals. That’s criminal - to take the ball into the tackle in inter-county football, you can’t do that.
“Some of our inexperienced players yesterday were playing as if they were playing club football in Down, carrying the ball into tackles. This is a massive step up and a lot of boys failed and failed very, very badly.”
Although he enjoyed plenty of good days in the red-and-black, including helping Down to the 2010 All-Ireland final, Coulter also suffered the lows and says he knows how much the players will be hurting.
Burns and his players discover on Tuesday who they face in the Qualifiers on June 25 and Coulter expects some tough conversations to take place in the coming days.
He said: “I was in some bad Down performances, I can’t sit here and say I wasn’t.
“There’s no doubt the players will be feeling the worst today. They’ll dust themselves down, meet up tomorrow night, thrash it out - what went wrong, where they go from here. They’ll know by then who they play in the Qualifiers.
“There’s a good possibility Down will get a Division Three or Four team in the Qualifiers, they’ll maybe win a couple of games but, as soon as they come up against a real good opponent, that’s the season over. A few good draws in the Qualifiers would prolong the season, but that probably isn’t good enough.”
While he feels he is no longer up to inter-county standard, Coulter believes his fellow 2010 Allstar Marty Clarke still has a big role to play in Down’s future. Clarke, in his role as a BBC pundit, revealed last Sunday he hadn’t been “contacted directly” by Burns since he took over from Jim McCorry. Burns couldn’t be contacted about the matter on Tuesday and the Down county board refused to comment.
But Coulter admits Clarke’s revelation had left him “speechless”: “I find that unbelievable,” he said.
“I took it that Marty wasn’t committing, but if that’s not the case… Marty Clarke still has a lot to offer Down football.”
THREE players walked away from the Down panel in the days before last Sunday’s chastening 19-point defeat to Ulster champions Monaghan.
Defenders Ryan Boyle and Luke Howard and forward Packie Downey - who all featured during the National League - didn’t travel with the Down team to Clones. It has also been confirmed by the Down county board that Clonduff forward Arthur McConville left the panel four weeks ago.
The loss of this quartet is another blow for Down boss Eamonn Burns, following the departures earlier in the year of Caolan Mooney and Niall Madine. Burns could not be contacted on Monday, but a Down spokeswoman said: “In compliance with rule 6.33, we had to name 26 players from a squad of 31, in accordance with match day regulations.”
When asked if the trio had left the panel in recent days, the spokeswoman replied: “They didn’t travel with the team yesterday.”