Down face vital visit of Donegal

By Michael McMullan

DOWN minor manager Benny Coulter feels there is little to choose between the top seven teams in Ulster but knows it’s crunch weekend for his side.

Donegal come to Páirc Esler on Saturday and it’s a must win game for Down if they are to have any chance of making the quarter-finals.

In the new format this season, teams topping their groups will advance to the semi-final where they will also have home advantage.

The teams in second and third [places will be paired in the quarter-finals with the other three counties left to play in a tier two of a new-look All-Ireland format.

Coulter, a minor All-Ireland winner with Down 25 years ago, hails the efforts of his squad. Last season, Down were on the wrong end of heavy scorelines.

This year is different. Down had wins over Monaghan, Donegal and Armagh in the league before they were beaten by Derry in the final.

“This year we have played all the top teams but there hasn’t been a kick to the ball in any of the games,” Coulter said.

Championship defeats at the hands of Tyrone and Monaghan leave Down needing to pull off a second win of the season against Donegal to give them a chance of making the top three.

They’ll need other results to go in their favour but must to win their last two games before they’ll be involved in any permutations.

“We need Monaghan to beat Donegal in the last game before we stand any chance,” Coulter pointed out. “First and foremost we need to win on Saturday. I told the boys that last night (Monday).

“It was a really good session last night and the boys are really hungry. They’re ready for the game.”

While Coulter said it will be unfortunate if Down end up in the second tier, he thinks the new format is a welcome development.

“The boys are getting plenty of football, plenty of games and it’s been brilliant so far,” he said.

“It’s do or die on Saturday, we have to win the game, that’s the bottom line.”

Coulter, who works as a coach in the local school and clubs, feels the recent u-20 success and seeing the seniors back in Division Two has helped spark an interest in playing for the county again.

“There is a wee bit of buzz coming back and every player in Down wants to play for Down,” he said.

“It’s not as if there’s lads turning up their nose to play for Down.

“We have all the best players playing.”

Coulter puts it down to seeing the u-20 players having success and moving into the senior camp.

“I think the pathway is there for lads to play senior football if they really want to and if they’re good enough.”

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