Down lock horns with last year's beaten finalists

Fermanagh v Down, 3.30pm, Enniskillen

Fermanagh v Down, 3.30pm, Enniskillen

The 2009 GAA Ulster SFC gets underway today with the question on many supporters lips that of - 'will Benny Coulter make an appearance today at Brewster Park?'

Down manager Ross Carr quelled some of the speculation on Friday that Coulter had not made a recovery from an injury which kept him out of the Allianz NFL for five weeks - by omitting the Mayobridge attacker who scored 3-8 in last years Championship from the starting line-up.

However Coulter may yet play some role. The former International rules star is likely to feature on the bench for a Down side that includes four debutants.

Coulter's clubmate and 2005 All-Ireland medal winner Conor Garvey takes up a centre half-back berth with Paul McComiskey who featured in Down's recent Cadbury's under 21 All-Ireland final loss to Cork starting at corner forward.

Warrenpoint's John Boyle and Annaclone clubman Brendan McArdle join McCumiskey in earning starting Championship debuts.

Mourne boss Carr is happy to put the league behind him after his side lost out in extra-time in the Division 3 decider to Tipperary.

"We were glad to get over the league campaign and get promoted and it was a case of immediately focussing on the championship,” he said.

But with Coulter's injury to the fore and other niggles on the treatment table it's a bit of an unbalanced Down squad at present.

“We are just at a bit of a loss with our injuries but every manager is going to be the same. Hopefully if we can get over Fermanagh then the next three weeks will clear up all the injuries, but it will be a huge test.”

Carr believes that today's encounter will make or break his sides Championship season.

"If we have got a chance of winning on Sunday I think we have. If we have a chance of winning Provincial success I don't know, but certainly our summer is going to be based on how we do on Sunday.

"If we get a good result on Sunday then the momentum that we gain from it and the confidence we gain from it then I think we can excel in the summer."

A lot can happen in 12 months of football. Last summer Fermanagh reached their peak in the Ulster Final taking Armagh to a replay, but the Orchard County made no mistake second time around.

Marty McGrath was one of the players who came to the fore, and was later rewarded with a call up to the Ireland International Rules squad.

The midfielder, who may have only scored an average of one point per game in last year's campaign but excelled in the air, believes that Fermanagh are better primed this season to go 'all the way' in Ulster with a stronger squad.

"We'd like to think that come Championship it will show that it is a bit stronger than last year. We've a few players in and a few players out and I suppose like any squad players are changing all of the time," McGrath said.

Erne County manager Malachy O'Rourke has plenty of experience to call up, but will also hand Championship debuts to 19-year-old Daryl Keenan from Tempo - brother of Ryan, and Ryan Carson of Newtownbutler this afternoon.

Both Keenan and Carson will feature in the full-forward line while at the opposite end of the pitch goalkeeper Chris Breen makes his Championship bow in place of 2008 net-minder Ronan Gallagher.

Shane O’Brien and Enda Ferris are among the younger talents unlucky not to be handed a starting 15 jersey this afternoon and McGrath says that the new blood has slotted well into the mix this year.

"There are some younger players coming in. It's widely known that our Achilles heel was scoring but players like Shane O'Brien, Enda Ferris and Daryl Keenan have come in well and they are scoring well and scoring regularly and that is a major help to us."

McGrath was hampered by a knee problem during the league but has managed this well and has been passed fit to start for this afternoon's encounter.

Definitely ruled in is captain McGrath who has made a speedy return to recovery but some doubts still surround the make-up of Fermanagh's starting 15.

O'Rourke has not started a team he has released to the media prior to match-day so expect the Erne County to make a shake up or two before throw-in this afternoon.

DOWN (SF V FERMANAGH): B McVeigh; L Howard, K McKernan, D Rafferty; A Carr, C Garvey, D Rooney; D Gordon, A Rogers; B McArdle, J Boyle, S Kearney; D Hughes, R Murtagh, P McComiskey.

FERMANAGH (SF v DOWN): C Breen; P Sherry, S Lyons, H Brady; D Kelly, S McDermott, T McElroy; M McGrath, J Sherry; R Keenan, C McElroy, M Little; D Keenan, R Carson, E Maguire.

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