Benny Coulter wants Down to go for broke and start Jerome Johnston and Mark Poland against Cork
FORMER Down star Benny Coulter believes the Mournemen can still avoid the dreaded drop to Division Three, but feels they must throw off their defensive shackles and go for broke against Cork on Sunday.
Victory at Pairc Ui Rinn would almost certainly see Down avoid a second consecutive relegation, while a draw could also save their skin. However, lose and they will be consigned to football’s third tier next year.
The Mourne County have a poor recent record against the Rebels, and Eamonn Burns’s side have offered little cause for optimism during back-to-back defeats against Kildare and Galway in the past fortnight.
It has all come down to this Sunday, and Coulter believes Burns should discard his defensive game-plan and start with Kilcoo’s livewire forward Jerome Johnston and Longstone playmaker Mark Poland.
“When Down break a team down in their own defence, they’ve nobody to hit up front. Barry O’Hagan is left on his own,” said the 2010 Allstar.
“Especially against Kildare, Barry was up the field on his own. More or less from the 45 up, he’s the only man there.
“They need to go with Jerome Johnston starting. Jerome’s the best forward in Down football – get him in from the start and let him go at these Cork boys.
“They also need to go with Mark Poland starting. Polie’s bound to be raring to get going – he’s sat on the bench all year, he’s probably only had eight or nine minutes all season, so he’d be out to prove a point.
“Bring Mark and Jerome in with Barry and Ryan Johnston and keep those four boys up front. Just go out and go for it because if you sit back and try and play that way for a third game in-a-row, it mightn’t work.
“I know Cork are no great shakes at the minute themselves, but let’s try something different.”
Coulter was part of the last Down team to find itself in Division Three before finally escaping its clutches in 2009.
Suffering a second relegation in-a-row under Burns would be a huge blow for the Mournemen ahead of their Ulster Championship derby against Armagh on June 4, but their former talisman is backing them to get the job done on Sunday.
“It’s really tough. If you’re in Division Three, your main focus is to get out of that division so you can’t even be thinking about Championship at all,” said the Mayobridge man.
“You’re playing in front of maybe one thousand people whereas in Division One and Two it’s four or five.
“When we got promoted into Division Two, we got to the League final and then went on to play in Division One for three or four years and that was when we had our best years with Down – when we were playing Division One football.
“People underestimate the ability that we have in this county – I’ve played with these lads, played against them and I’m telling you now, we have the ability to play in Division One. That is without question of a doubt. There’s magnificent players in Down.
“But we need to get something from this game on Sunday. It’s going to be a tough weekend, but I think there’s still a chance.
“I wouldn’t rule out Down winning on Sunday. There should be one more kick left in them.”