Benny Coulter to make Down return confirms Burns

Down forward Benny Coulter will return to the Mourne setup for 2016 after a one-year exile <br />Picture by Philip Walsh
Down forward Benny Coulter will return to the Mourne setup for 2016 after a one-year exile
Picture by Philip Walsh

BENNY COULTER will come out of retirement and return to Down colours next season - but doubts continue to hang over the future of Conor Laverty.

Mayobridge star Coulter, 33, retired at the end of the 2014 season after 15 seasons with Down and subsequently missed this year’s campaign under Jim McCorry. There has been constant speculation about a return throughout 2015, though, and new boss Éamonn Burns confirmed to The Irish News on Tuesday that he is on the way back for next year.

“I was speaking to Benny and he’s started a wee bit of prep work on his own, so hopefully we’ll see him before Christmas, all being well,” said Burns.

Asked if that meant former captain Coulter would definitely be seen back in the black and red in 2016, Burns replied: “Yep.”

However, he admitted to being unsure about the future of another key forward, Conor Laverty. The Kilcoo man has been arguably Down’s outstanding player over the past couple of seasons, but speculation is mounting that he is on the verge of hanging up the boots.

“At the minute, Conor’s taking a break," Burns added. 

"We sent out an invitation for him to join the panel, but a lot of the Kilcoo boys are taking a bit of a break as they had an extended season. That’s where it is at the minute. I haven’t had any indication that Conor’s not going to come back. I haven’t had the opportunity. I was at a do on Friday night and was speaking to a lot of the players, but Conor wasn’t there.”

The new Mourne boss also said he would like to see Dan Gordon return to the fold, although no pressure is being put on him to make a decision as Gordon is currently preparing to lead his club Loughinisland into the All-Ireland intermediate football series after Christmas. Burns revealed he has spoken to the veteran midfielder about joining up with the squad once Loughinisland’s campaign is complete.

“Dan’s involved with Loughinisland and their season’s still running, so it would be unfair to encroach on that, but I have spoken to Dan," the Down manager said.

“He would like to finish that off first before he would make a commitment. He hasn’t said no, that’s the way I’m looking at it. He has a very young family and he’s running with the club team there, so it would be unfair to try and shackle him in.

“We’d like to see him, that’s the long and short of it. I think he has plenty still to offer Down football, but he has to make that decision himself, I can’t make it for him.”

Double All-Ireland winner Burns, who managed Tullylish last season before taking over from McCorry after his one-year reign ended, is also without Benny McArdle and Paul Devlin for a while.

“We have a few injuries that aren’t on the short-term, the likes of Benny McArdle and Paul Devlin, who picked up a bad injury with the club, so you have to fill those spaces as well," he said.

“We might have both of them back before the end of the league. Might have. They’re both 8-to-10 weeks away at the minute, which takes you almost into March.”

With Down not involved in the Ó Fiaich Cup, Burns is in the process of arranging challenge games to take his side up to the start of the McKenna Cup in January.

“We’ve a couple of challenge games. We played Antrim on Saturday morning, it was a desperate morning, but we got a look at different people," he said.

“We’re trying to line up a few other ones, but we’ve nothing nailed to the ground yet. Some other counties have been on, but their dates aren’t matching our dates, so we’ve had to let them go.”