GAA Football

Monaghan boss O'Rourke looking up rather than down

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke isn't giving up hope of his side reaching the National League semi-finals again. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

MONAGHAN boss Malachy O’Rourke isn’t thinking of relegation and hasn’t given up on a semi-final place as they head into crucial fixtures against Kerry and Donegal.

The Farneymen made an early charge for safety with wins over promoted pair Roscommon and Down in their first two games, but have since lost three on the bounce.

They now sit just two points clear of second-bottom Mayo and on Sunday, they host a Kerry side enjoying their annual good run towards the end of the league, having won their last three after losing their opening two games.

Given that Mayo would leapfrog them on head-to-head if the sides ended up level on points, the prospect of relegation is a real one.

Asked if his side had something to prove in the top flight given that their two wins had come over the two promoted sides, O’Rourke said: “We’re not so much trying to prove a point, we’re treating every game as a really competitive fixture and we want to test ourselves in them all.

“They’re all championship-type fixtures. If we won the two, we’d be in the shake-up for the semi-finals.

“If we won one, we’d probably stay up. If we happen to lose both, we’d be in problems at the other end, so it’s all to play for.

“We’re not really thinking of relegation. We’re trying to perform really well in the two games we have left. We feel if we do that we have a good chance of getting points out of them.

“They’re two really tough games left and they’ll be great preparation for later in the year, especially because everyone’s looking for points, especially ourselves. We’ll know more about our strengths and weaknesses after them.”

Monaghan headed to Cork a fortnight ago off the back of consecutive narrow defeats to Dublin and Mayo, but were blitzed in the opening quarter.

Cork had 1-5 on the board before O’Rourke’s side registered their first score, and from there it was an uphill battle.

“We know if we play as we did against Cork the last day there’ll only be one winner, so we have to produce a really good performance,” says the double-Ulster winning boss.

He will be without Gavin Doogan, who made his return from long-term injury in Cork two weeks ago but then suffered a hamstring injury on club duty at the weekend.

Kieran Hughes didn’t make Scotstown’s opening Monaghan SFL draw with Ballybay on Sunday with his ongoing heel injury, though O’Rourke isn’t ruling him out of the Kerry tie.

“We’ll be waiting to see how he’s going this week in training. We’re hopeful that he might feature this weekend,” said O’Rourke.

“He is coming on and he was on the panel for Cork but we felt it wasn’t worth risking him, especially when we got off to a bad start and were chasing the game. We’ll have to see how he comes through training this week.”

Hughes’ brother Darren began the campaign at full-forward, reprising the role he had played to such great effect for Scotstown last autumn.

Injury troubles at midfield have forced him back out into the number 9 jersey for the last couple of games, but O’Rourke suggested he will revisit the idea of pairing him inside with Conor McManus when he has a full hand to choose from.

“Early on in the year, Darren had been away on his honeymoon and maybe wouldn’t have been as fit as he is now. We wanted to play him in there and ease him in.

“The last few games, with Kieran out injured and Dick Clerkin and Gavin Doogan out, there were a number of injuries and it was a necessity that we brought him out there.

“It’s something we’ll probably look at again. Darren gives us great energy and drive out the field as well, so it depends on who you’re playing and what you need on a particular day.”

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