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Down must work on 'Plan B'

FIVE weeks will have passed since Down's poor league final performance against Armagh, when they travel to Ballybofey this weekend for their Ulster Championship opener against Donegal.

Following a league campaign which had seen them drop only one point and earn an away victory against Sunday's opponents prior to their miserable trip to Croke Park, the high hopes that an end could be put to a 16-year barren run without the Anglo Celt trophy, appear a little misguided.

Without question Down possess one of the game's best forwards in Benny Coulter, and the return of former minor star Marty Clarke from his spell playing Aussie Rules has certainly boosted their attack.

However, the lack of support in the full-forward line and more crucially the absence of a Plan B when the shackles are placed on Coulter, leaves the Mourne men struggling to live up to all the promise. Arguably Donegal could be viewed in similar light, as a new prodigy, and young footballer of the year in 2009, Michael Murphy will once again be asked to almost single-handedly carry the hopes of his county.

A couple of Ulster final appearances during the past decade, has failed to materialise into a sustained assault on the province, where often off field antics grab more headlines than the on field actions.

With both teams heavily reliant on their respective full-forwards, the midfield duel will be one of the key battle zones on Sunday, as both teams will look to create a supply line to the inside line.

The absence of Ambrose Rogers from James McCartan's midfield is a big blow, while the availability of Donegal's Neil Gallagher certainly tees this up to be a very competitive area. With both sides having some obvious weaknesses, Donegal's greatest strength may lie in corner-back Karl Lacey, who, if given the job of tagging Coulter, could have the definitive act in deciding which way this tie goes.