Losing against Cavan will leave Down in relegation trouble says Benny Coulter
BEATING Clare would have sent Down up to second in a claustrophobic Division Two but the points went to the Bannermen and that defeat kept the Mournemen stuck in mid-table with one eye on relegation.
With three games left, former Down Allstar Benny Coulter fears that losing the next one – away to Cavan – will leave his county in serious danger of being relegated.
“The game against Cavan will decide where they’ll end up,” he said.
“If Down can beat them I think they’ll be safe but, if they don’t, I really think they’ll be in trouble. They did pick up points Roscommon but I was down at the game and I didn’t think they played that well.
“It’s not happening for them at the minute but they have another three games and I think three points will definitely get them safe.
“Last year, I thought Down would beat Armagh and Monaghan in the Championship but having seen them in the McKenna Cup and in all the League games I just think there’s something missing.
“Maybe it’s because Connaire Harrison was missing against Clare because that wee spark isn’t there at the minute.”
Harrison provided the spark for Down’s opening day win over Louth with 1-2 in five second half minutes. His importance to the Mourne county cause hasn’t gone unnoticed and he was wound-up and sent off against Cork and missed the last two games through suspension. The Glasdrumman forward looks certain to return for the trip to Kingspan Breffni.
“He is a massive player for Down at the minute,” said Coulter.
“He is the go-to man and he has a big, physical presence in the forward line. It’ll be good to get him back.”
Harrison gives the team a cutting edge, but winning the ball in midfield has been a concern for the Mournemen this year despite the best efforts of Niall Donnelly, Conor Poland and David McKibbon who have all battled hard in the engineroom.
“Down don’t have midfielders like we had in years gone by, the likes of Gregory McCartan, Conor Deegan, Dan Gordon, Ambrose Rogers…,” said Coulter.
“We don’t have big, physical midfielders in Down. I know every player in Down football and they’re just not there.
“Niall Donnelly is a good player and he was renowned for being a centre half-back or a full-back for his club and he’s playing in midfield for Down. Conor Poland is in his first year and he has done well but it’s a massive step up from club level to playing in midfield for Down.
“I thought Clare would really put it up to Down because they have two 6’4” midfielders and Cork had two big midfielders and Down just struggled against them. When we come up against big men who are dogs and work hard around the middle of the field we just struggle.
“But I think Down will put it up to Cavan because they’re not that physical, I think they’re on a par with Down and we have a chance in that game.”
The loss of full-back Gerard McGovern has been a blow to Eamonn Burns’s side, but Castlewellan Colm Flanagan has settled quickly in defence.
“Colm has done very well at corner-back,” said Coulter.
“I think he’ll hold his place for the Championship and that’s a big thing for Down to get someone in there to replace Gerard because he’s going to be a huge miss come Championship time.”
Last year Down clung on to their Division Two status thanks to a gutsy last gasp draw in Cork and Coulter – an All-Ireland finalist with the Mournemen in 2010 – says it is vital that they do so again this year.
“It’s very important that they stay up,” he said.
“I’m not concerned yet, but I will be if they don’t beat Cavan. I’ve been at every Down game this year and they aren’t back at the level they were against Armagh or Monaghan in the Championship.
“I’d be concerned for their form, they’re not firing on all cylinders at the minute.”