Linden fears Tyrone attack could run riot
WHEN Mickey Linden trudged off the Clones pitch in 2003 after a 15-point hammering at the hands of Tyrone in the Ulster final replay, he knew an inter-county career that had spanned 21 seasons was over.
At 40 years of age, he had more than done his bit and had sealed his place as one of the most exciting players of his generation. The then Mourne boss Paddy O'Rourke was looking towards the younger members of the squad and the manner of their replay defeat to Tyrone hinted at the changing of the guard that was coming in the country, with Mickey Harte's side on the way to winning three of the next six All-Ireland titles.
In any case, both Mayobridge and Down had found a natural successor to Linden. Benny Coulter's talent had been well heralded and, by that stage, he was already established with the county's senior side having been given his senior debut by Pete McGrath in 1999 when still a minor.
Coulter had emerged as the star of the All-Ireland-winning Down minor side of that year when he finished top scorer in the championship from midfield.
The similarities between the two were striking. Both men have an eye for goal and seem to go from standing still to top speed in a single stride and the pair played an integral part as the club won their first Down senior championship in 80 years in 1999. Overall, though, Coulter's career has not been adorned with the medals Linden won.
"For a long time he was the man that you had to stop when you were playing Down and teams were very aware of it," Linden said.
"Again it took his brilliance to win it against Donegal the last day. We're hoping he gets his hands on the medals he deserves."
Coulter himself recently admitted that winning an Ulster medal would be as good an All-Ireland success at this stage of his career. The 28-year-old hasn't made it to a provincial final since '03.
"We were nine points up with 10 or 12 to go (in the drawn game) and you can't do that. It was definitely one we should have won," he said.
At 46 years old, Linden played some reserve football for Mayobridge and hasn't ruled out another season as a player. He has also taken up athletics and to no one's surprise, won All-Ireland gold in the masters 60m and 100m sprints.
It must seem like a lifetime ago he started playing adult football with the 'Bridge. When a young Mickey Linden first togged out in 1979, the club were languishing in the lowest division of football in the county. In '09, Kilcoo halted their march towards a sixth successive senior title in succession and they are amongst the favourites for the competition this year.
Coulter has been selected for International Rules duty on five different occasions but hasn't won an All Star. Linden was awarded just one All Star (1994), when he was also named Player of the Year. An extended run in this year's championship could see Coulter rectify that, but Linden believes James McCartan's side are up against it.
"They are playing a bit more defensively and that has been a problem for Down in recent years," he said.
"But look at the forwards Tyrone have like Owen Mulligan, Sean Cavanagh and Stephe n O'Neill. Looking at those players people would say we'll be doing well to stay inside six points of them. We'll have to keep it tight at the back and minimise their scoring opportunities. If we can do that, we have a chance."
Linden's championship career began with defeat to Tyrone in 1982 and ended that day in Clones. Down's traditional approach to football that served them so well in the 1960s and the 1990s hasn't translated to success in the last decade, so they have moved to meet the new trends. This evening in Casement Park, they face the ultimate test.