GAA Football

Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke ready to renew Cavan rivalry

Cavan's Gearoid McKiernan takes on Monaghan's Ryan McAnespie in the Ulster SFC at Kingspan Breffni Park.
Picture: Colm O'Reilly

THERE were many good reasons to appoint Malachy O'Rourke as Monaghan manager – and being a Derrylin man might just have been one of those.

Yet even that proximity to the border with Cavan didn't fully prepare him for the intensity of the Breffni county's will-to-win against the Farneymen:

"I was aware it was a big rivalry," he says, "but I probably wasn't aware how far it goes back. I'm aware of it now.

"It's not so much the players but meeting older people, families, mothers and fathers, they'd tell you. They talk about years when Monaghan went in as favourites and were turned over and vice versa.

"For us it's about trying to take the emotion out of it and concentrate on getting a big performance on the day that will get you through to the next round.

"If you get too bogged down in that other side of things you can lose sight of the important stuff. There's no doubt there is a big rivalry there [laughs]."

Cavan haven't bested Monaghan in the senior football championship for almost 18 years, losing three tight games in the six seasons in which O'Rourke has been in charge, two of those at Kingspan Breffni Park.

Saturday evening's quarter-final will again be in the Cavan town venue but Monaghan will again be favourites, having reached last year's All-Ireland semi-finals and survived in Division One this season – unlike Mickey Graham's men.

However, the bookies odds make no odds to O'Rourke, he insists: "You just have to pass no remarks on that. We've gone into games as underdogs or as favourites and in both cases we have won and we've lost.

"It doesn't really matter – it's about getting the performance on the day and getting fellas' minds set right, that they're aware of the effort and level of intensity expected to win a Championship match. Then using their experience and using their heads, playing right to the end."

Monaghan won by a goal two years ago, and by one-point margins in 2015 and 2013, so Cavan will be desperate to edge this encounter.

O'Rourke and his players will be equally determined to maintain their winning streak, but he knows cool heads may be required:

"That rivalry is there in every county. Our players are no different, they always want to go out and beat their neighbours. But if you go too much down that path it can be dangerous too and you can lose sight of the important things that you need to get right."

Monaghan will be without some key players around the middle of the field, with Darren Hughes ruled out by an ankle injury and Niall Kearns still working his way back from a heart operation, while Kieran Hughes is a doubt too.

Midfield matters haven't been helped by other niggles, with O'Rourke commenting: "Unfortunately a couple of other lads who would play around the middle, Neil McAdam and Gavin Doogan, haven't been playing that much, so that's our biggest area of concern. In other areas we have more cover."

Certainly up front Monaghan have plenty of talent, notably Conor McManus, likely to be accompanied by several of the following: Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron, Ryan McAnespie Shane Carey, and Stephen O'Hanlon.

However, they only scored one league goal after their impressing opening win over Dublin, by 2-13 to 1-13, and that came in defeat to Mayo in round seven.

O'Rourke was relaxed about a league campaign which brought only one other win – against Cavan:

"We had a great victory against Dublin and then the next couple of games [against Roscommon and Galway] we just didn't play well enough to win them, having said that we could have won them. That left us chasing things a bit."

Monaghan then lost away to both Tyrone and Kerry, putting them in danger of relegation: "The Cavan game was a must-win game and we got through that. The Mayo game wasn't a bad performance but we ended up losing that, but it didn't matter.

"The one thing it shows is that we have an awful lot to work on. We know that if we want to be competitive this year there are a lot of areas of our game we need to improve and that's what we've been trying to do.

"It all starts with Cavan and that's going to be a really tight match, and we want to be ready for that one first".

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