Football

Down vacancy is a slow burner so far: Benny Coulter

Benny Coulter says the Down job will take some filling Picture: Philip Walsh
Benny Coulter says the Down job will take some filling Picture: Philip Walsh Benny Coulter says the Down job will take some filling Picture: Philip Walsh

FORMER Down ace Benny Coulter says he is not surprised by the lack of candidates putting their hands up for the Mourne vacancy following Paddy Tally’s managerial exit last week.

It is understood U20 boss Conor Laverty and Roscommon coach Steve Poacher will not apply for the vacancy although it remains to be seen if former Down star Conor Deegan will declare an interest in the post having spent time with the county’s U20s while also coaching some of the current senior players during his stint with Queen’s.

Coulter spent a year working under Tally before taking over the U20s.

Now in his second year with Longstone, Coulter has no intentions of throwing his hat in the ring for the senior job.

“Not at the minute, definitely not,” said Coulter, who won an Allstar in 2010.

“Maybe in three or four years’ time. I’m happy in club football and taking underage teams at my own club. I’d have absolutely no aspirations for the Down job at the minute.”

He added: “Conor Laverty is doing well in with the U20s. There is the likes of Conor Deegan and Stevie [Poacher]… but I don’t think anybody is putting their hand up and saying: ‘I want that job’.”

Even before Down’s shortened NFL Division Two concluded, where they retained their status, Tally already seemed to be speaking about the Mournmen in past tense.

After being mauled by Meath, Tally said: “There has been massive change in the Down team over the last two or three seasons and that’s what you have at county level.

“What you’d love in Down is for boys to commit themselves to being county players for, say, 10 years, whereas players stick at it for two years or four years and are gone.

“There’s just a high turnover and if you look at the top teams in the country that doesn’t happen. Players [in top counties] can nearly guarantee that they’ll be there from they’re 19 to 29, so I think this is something Down and the players need to think about.”

After saving their own skin by edging out Westmeath in a relegation play-off at the end of May, Down were always rank outsiders to spring a surprise against Donegal in the Ulster Championship, losing by 15 points in Newry.

Last November, Down squandered a great chance of reaching their second Ulster final in four years after faltering in the second half of their semi-final against eventual winners Cavan.

“We had a poor second half against Cavan and then this year to play only five games is tough,” Coulter said.

“Normally you’d have a few games in the McKenna Cup, seven or eight league games and a few Championship games. In fairness to Paddy he took Down at the wrong time in terms of the way things panned out with COVID. You can’t build a team in five games. It was just a tough couple of years.”

Meanwhile, Coulter feels the one-sided nature of this year’s knock-out Championship should be sending alarm bells ringing in Croke Park.

Apart from Donegal’s one-point win over Derry in Ulster last weekend, the early games have been lopsided affairs. Following Down’s heavy first round defeat to Donegal, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone eased to comprehensive wins over Fermanagh, Antrim and Cavan, respectively.

In Connacht, Mayo sauntered to a 24-point victory over hapless Leitrim while Kerry won their Munster clash with Tipperary by 11 points.

“There definitely isn’t the buzz around the Championship games as there used to be,” said the Mayobridge man.

“Even before 2010 the buzz was gone. Around 2008/09 the Ulster Championship was good. We played Tyrone in ’08 and Newry that day was unbelievable. You’re not getting those days any more.

“The strong teams are getting stronger and the weaker teams are getting weaker.

“I believe it should be broken into the way club football is – senior, intermediate and junior – and you’d have more competitive games. There is always going to be the odd one-sided game but over the past four or five weeks there have been one-sided games. You’re switching over at half-time in some of those matches, bar yesterday [Donegal versus Derry].”