Advantage Monaghan but Down will win Qualifier says Benny Coulter
DOWN won the first meeting, but tomorrow's Qualifier re-run of June's Ulster semi-final favours Monaghan, says Benny Coulter.
Mayobridge's Mourne county Hall of Famer has been there, he took part in both games back in 2013 when Down beat Derry in the Ulster Championship only to lose to them a few weeks later in the Qualifiers.
“Monaghan definitely have an advantage,” says Coulter.
“It's very, very hard. We were very well prepared for the second game against Derry but in the back of your mind you're saying: ‘We've already beat these boys, but we have to do it all again'.
“You think all the hard work that you did will be undone if you're beaten, so I think it's tough for Down mentally. The only good thing about it is, it's at Croke Park - we had to go back down to Celtic Park to beat Derry again the second time.
“Playing at Croke Park will give the players a good lift.”
Down haven't played a Championship game at ‘Headquarters' since the 2010 All-Ireland final and Coulter says the famous Dublin venue will bring the best out of Eamonn Burns' side.
“Monaghan don't have as good a record at Croke Park as we do and they usually come unstuck around this time of year,” he said.
“I would be confident of beating them but it's definitely going to be difficult mentally.
“I believe we have as good, if not better, players but beating them again is going to be a tough ask.”
One of the few commentators who was positive about Down's prospects this season, Coulter predicted Division Two survival and a run in the Championship. Both tips have come up but he expects Monaghan to have learned lessons from their shock Ulster semi-final defeat.
“I don't think they knew much about Connaire Harrison, they maybe took him for granted,” he said.
“They were maybe saying to themselves ‘we just have to mark Jerome Johnston'.
“Jerome is the best forward in Down and I think they took their eye off Connaire and Caolan Mooney's strong running and how well Kevin McKernan can get up and down the field in the sweeper role.
“They'll know all about that now, they'll know they have to stop McKernan building from the back and stop the ball going in to Harrison. They'll need to keep tight on Jerome Johnston again. Malachy O'Rourke will have all those things covered now.”
He added: “I don't think they (Monaghan) have set the world alight.
“Jack McCarron had a great League but he hasn't had a great Championship and (Conor) McManus hasn't been great. He's a fantastic player – the best in Ireland on his day – and he is going to be a serious threat for Down this weekend.
“If we had McManus in our team we'd be competing for Ulster every year, that's how good he is.”
Monaghan may bring in Scotstown forward Conor McCarthy for tomorrow's round four tie while Coulter has called for Mark Poland to start for Down.
“I know the squad inside out and I don't think there's much more we can throw at Monaghan,” he said.
“Maybe they'll bring in Donal O'Hare for this game or move a couple of players about.
“There is nobody else in the squad who could come in and you'd say ‘he's going to make a quare difference'. I would get Mark Poland in from the start.
“He's a good ball carrier and he would do well in the wide-open spaces of Croke Park. It's something we missed against Tyrone because there were boys there who can play a bit more of a defensive role, Polie is more on the front foot and he's still the best playmaker in Down football.
“He needs to be in from the start – he'll go at people and take them on, he gets the ball and goes forward to open up gaps in defences. Down don't have another player of his quality.”