The Championship

Darren Hughes hopes Malachy O'Rourke survives Longford loss

Monaghan Darren Hughes is put under pressure by Longford’s Michael Brady and Donal McElligott during last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier in Clones Picture by Philip Walsh

DARREN HUGHES says he felt “embarrassed” by last Saturday night’s All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Longford - and hoped it wouldn’t be Malachy O’Rourke’s final act as Monaghan’s manager.

Arguably the biggest upset ever recorded since the inception of the backdoor system in 2001, Monaghan squandered a three-point lead at half-time to lose by three against the Leinster minnows. Hughes refused to blame the two bruising encounters Monaghan had against Donegal in recent weeks as an excuse for their shock defeat to Longford. 

Asked if he hoped O'Rourke would stay on for a fifth year, Hughes said: “Definitely. We were an embarrassment to what he’s brought to us over the last four years. That performance doesn’t epitomise what our management has done for us. It was not good enough.”

In the immediate aftermath of last Saturday night's All-Ireland exit, O'Rourke refused to be drawn on his managerial future with Monaghan: “I deliberately don’t want to make any pronouncements today because you can say things that you later regret,” he said.

“I just feel bitterly disappointed at the minute. We just didn’t want the year to finish like this. Unfortunately, we can’t turn back the clock. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

The Fermanagh native has guided Monaghan to two Ulster titles in four years and, in each of those years, they played Championship football at Croke Park, albeit they lost three successive All-Ireland quarter-finals - to Dublin and Tyrone, twice.

Despite their patchy form throughout 2016, Hughes insisted the 2016 Monaghan panel was arguably the strongest they’ve ever had: “We probably stuttered a bit this year,” he said.

“We played well one game and not so well the next game. We brought in young players, we improved the squad as we went along and we said it was the strongest squad we had. But if you don’t play well, you’ll lose.”

Monaghan were a clear second best in their Ulster semi-final replay defeat to Donegal, even though they only lost by a point. They had a week to prepare for their All-Ireland Qualifier round 2B home clash with Longford, who had already upset the odds by knocking Down out of this year’s Championship a fortnight earlier.

“We didn’t underestimate Longford,” Hughes added.

“We put in the same work, just like any other game. We’ve no excuses. It wasn’t good enough on the day. Fair play to them. Longford are no bad team. We’ve had worse days. We’ll regroup and we’ll be back.”

The Scotstown man added: “We freshened things up after the Donegal replay. We’ve no excuses. Longford put it to us, we pegged them back before half-time. We spoke about how they came back at Down, but we just didn’t get back at them. Not enough of us performed on the day.

“We’re out on our ear and Longford are into the next round. We’ll sit down, we’ll look at what went right and what went wrong. It was disappointing. But we’ve no other choice but to get back on the saddle again next year.”

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The Championship