By Shaun Casey
DOWN legend Benny Coulter believes the Mourne men are heading in the right direction, even if they miss out on promotion from Division Three this season as they prepare for Saturday’s clash with lowly Longford in Newry.
Conor Laverty’s side have already improved on a winless 2022 campaign and Coulter puts that down to hard work and having the best players within the county lining out in the red and black.
“We’re getting a lift already with the crowds that are coming out,” said the Down minor manager.
“You’re getting 6,000 or 7,000 at the games, the boys are putting in decent performances and they’re putting the work in at training.
“That’s all we can ask for regardless whether we get promotion or not this year. I think Down football is on the up, the players are starting to buy into it.
“We’re getting our best players on the pitch while last year, there’s no point hiding away from it, the players weren’t putting the work in.
“You can’t criticise James McCartan for that, you have to look at the players first. But this year Conor certainly has the best players playing and they’re working because if they weren’t working, they wouldn’t be there. He’s turned it around.”
Down have shown serious character in some of their games, snatching victories from the jaws of defeat against both Antrim and Westmeath.
They head into Saturday’s clash off the back of their second defeat of the campaign, following their seven-point loss to table-toppers Cavan.
“We definitely stole the Antrim game, Antrim were the best team for 65 minutes and Westmeath were the best team for 55 minutes and Down played well for 15 minutes.
“But it’s a tough league,” added the 2010 All-Star.
“I played in Division Three for years and you get nothing easy. You’d expect Down to beat Longford at home and then it could go down to the last game against Offaly away, it’s probably between Down and Fermanagh to see who gets promoted on the last day.
“They seem to be a lot fitter than other teams. Obviously, Conor has got a lot more work done with them than maybe other teams.
“They have the two Johnstons (Ryan and Jerome) back in, bit of experience, big Odhran Murdock’s been playing brilliantly for Down, and Liam Kerr. I just feel if they go a wee bit more direct and if we can get Liam Kerr up the field a wee bit more, he’s a hard man to stop.”