Coulter plays down league significance

Down open their Division 1 campaign with a glamour floodlit game against Tyrone on Saturday night, but Benny Coulter says the Allianz League is not exactly high up on the Mourne men's list of priorities.

Coulter and company finished third in the top flight last season but were well-beaten by Donegal in the Ulster SFC final and bowed out in the All-Ireland quarter-finals to Mayo.

In 2011, Down had a fourth place finish in Division 1 before failing to make an impact on the summer's Championship - losing to Armagh in Ulster and Cork in the last round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

James McCartan's charges are clearly determined to recapture the sort of the form which saw them reach the All-Ireland final in 2010 and win four All-Star awards - one of the winners being Coulter.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the talismanic Down forward said: "I was talking to a few of the boys there the other day, and I suppose over this last couple of years we have maybe focused too much on staying in Division 1 instead of getting our systems ready and getting ourselves ready for the Championship.

“If it took being relegated, so be it. As long as we are ready for the Championship and we knew our game-plan, knew what everybody was doing instead of going out getting two points here and there, saying we stayed in Division 1 but we haven't got a system in place.

“We are going to have to look at that rather than concentrating on staying in that division."

Down has spent the past two seasons in the top flight having topped the Division 2 table in 2010 and lost that year's divisional decider to another Ulster side, Armagh.

Many county teams view the league as an ideal platform to build for the higher profile Championship matches later in the year, while at the same time blooding new players and trying to mount a challenge for early season silverware.

Coulter might already be focusing on improved results in the Championship, but winning the league title does not necessarily rule a county out of the Sam Maguire Cup equation.

Since the turn of the century, five teams have achieved the league and Championship double - Tyrone (2003), Kerry (2004, 2006 and 2009) and Cork (2010).

“We could go and win the National League this year and nobody would remember it but if you go on and do well in the All-Ireland, people would definitely remember it," argued the Mayobridge clubman.

“I haven't spoken to James (McCartan) about it - he probably feels different about it, but the league isn't the be-all and end-all of things.

“You have to try a couple of systems to see which is best, see how you can handle the pressure of playing in a certain system, who can handle it and who can't, to get our shop in order for the Championship.”

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