Mal hop­ing the Gaels can func­tion on big­gest stage

The Argus - - SPORT - JOHN SAV­AGE

AF­TER fi­nally eras­ing a 25-year wait for a county fi­nal ap­pear­ance, Malachy O’Rourke must al­ready be near­ing cult-hero sta­tus down at The Ram­parts.

If he can wipe out that 65-year gap to Joe Ward glory, they’ll be draw­ing up plans for a statue!

But self-pro­mo­tion is just not in the Ar­magh man’s na­ture and he is quick to de­flect any praise or ad­mi­ra­tion on to his play­ers.

‘I think I was lucky enough to in­herit a very good panel when I came in here last year,’ he says as the big day ap­proaches. ‘I don’t think it was that much of a step for them to make the fi­nal, to be hon­est. They’ve been to four semi-fi­nals, so even­tu­ally you’ll get lucky in one of them, I think.’

But apart from get­ting that all-im­por­tant rub of the green, the Dromintee na­tive sus­pects that the nar­row­ing of the gap be­tween youth and ex­pe­ri­ence could be the vi­tal miss­ing in­gre­di­ent

‘I’m only com­ing in from out­side so I don’t re­ally know the his­tory too much. But there is a co­hort of fel­las that are mid to late 20s there, that have ob­vi­ously been about for a few years, and have been close to mak­ing the break­through. But I’m not sure what’s hap­pened this year that’s any dif­fer­ent re­ally.

‘They prob­a­bly learned from ex­pe­ri­ence and the young fel­las have def­i­nitely come in and strength­ened the team up, like Con­nor Mor­gan, the Murrays, Chris Sweeney. Th­ese fel­las have re­ally given us more op­tions, and I sup­pose peo­ple like Barry Wat­ters and Eanna McAr­dle have re­ally stepped up too. So, adding all those guys into a team that has been es­tab­lished for a num­ber of years has given us a good blend.’

While the Cham­pi­onship was cer­tainly in the back of ev­ery­one’s mind at the start of the year, O’Rourke just asked his play­ers to take it one-gameat-a-time. It’s a cliche, but af­ter wait­ing 25 years for a fi­nal ap­pear­ance, the Gaels have no right to ap­proach the cam­paign any other way.

‘I would be a great be­liever in com­pet­ing in the first divi­sion, and push­ing to­wards the top four on an an­nual ba­sis. I sup­pose that was our tar­get re­ally, to be get­ting com­pet­i­tive games that were of a good stan­dard. Last year when we got to the lat­ter stages of the cham­pi­onship it was too much of a step up for us from where we’d been in Divi­sion 2. I think any club that wants to re­ally do well in the se­nior cham­pi­onship, con­sis­tently play­ing against the best teams in the county is the pri­or­ity, and that’s what you get in the league.’

Re­flect­ing on their jour­ney to Sun­day’s fi­nal O’Rourke is pleased with the bat­tling qual­i­ties his team have shown, bounc­ing back from a heavy de­feat to Naomh Mairtin and de-thron­ing Sean O’Ma­hony’s al­beit af­ter a replay.

But he agrees that New­town Blues will be a step up again, and while the Gaels pre­vailed when the sides met in the quar­ter-fi­nals last year, he’s not read­ing much into that vic­tory.

‘There was un­for­tu­nate cir­cum­stances for that match as well, be­cause they had a be­reave­ment in the club, and the match was post­poned, so I’m sure that up­set their prepa­ra­tions.

‘But they’re a very dif­fer­ent team now than they were then. Andy Mc­Don­nell is back and the Carrs, and they’ve brought through a lot of good young play­ers, so they’re a much bet­ter prospect I think than they were this time last year.’

O’Rourke has ob­vi­ously done his home­work but he in­sists it’s not the be-all and end-all of his prepa­ra­tion.

‘I think we fo­cus on our­selves all year re­ally, and try and find the best way for us to play foot­ball, and max­i­mize what we have and just make sure that what we do as a team is as good as we can pos­si­bly do. Ob­vi­ously you look at the op­po­si­tion and you try to see where they’re strong and so forth, but we fo­cus on our­selves, and that’s the most im­por­tant thing.’

One thing the Gaels will be fo­cus­ing on is clos­ing the game out if they es­tab­lish a match-win­ning po­si­tion. They didn’t do it against O’Ma­hony’s in the replay and al­most squan­dered an eight-point in the semi-fi­nal win over Naomh Mairtin, but O’Rourke isn’t overly con­cerned by the lat­ter hic­cup.

‘It was semi-fi­nal and you just want to win, so I haven’t re­ally dwelt on it at all. I sup­pose I’d look at the pos­i­tives of that game. I think we played a lot of re­ally good foot­ball for the ma­jor­ity of it, prob­a­bly for 58 min­utes of it, and then for the re­main­ing 9 min­utes, what­ever was played, they prob­a­bly had noth­ing else to lose that stage. They went for it, and some­times that can be to the op­po­si­tion’s ad­van­tage. The Mairtins are very ca­pa­ble of putting 2-4 or 2-5 on the board in the space of 7-10 min­utes, so it’s some­thing you would al­ways worry about. They’re al­ways go­ing to get a charge at you, so we were just happy that we got over the line and it’s done and dusted now.’

O’Rourke has been to six county fi­nals as player and man­ager, win­ning one Dublin SFC with UCD. The five de­feats all came in Ar­magh to the mighty Cross­ma­glen, but de­spite all that heartache, and per­haps be­cause of it, he’ll be urg­ing his play­ers to savour the big day.

‘I think you have to en­joy the oc­ca­sion. A lot of a play­ers go through their ca­reer and never get to a fi­nal, and never get the op­por­tu­nity to play in a county fi­nal, so it’s im­por­tant to take it all in and en­joy it, and not close it out.

‘But equally, at the end of the day it’s a game of foot­ball, so we have to be pre­pared for that. When­ever the ball’s thrown in, noth­ing else counts at that stage only foot­ball.’

‘I think you have to en­joy the oc­ca­sion. A lot of a play­ers go through their ca­reer and never get to a fi­nal, and never get the op­por­tu­nity to play in a county fi­nal, so it’s im­por­tant to take it all in and en­joy it, and not close it out.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.