GAA Football

Out-going Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke brought us to a new level: Kieran Hughes

Monaghan Malachy O'Rourke stepped down after seven years in charge after his side lost to Armagh last weekend Picture by Philip Walsh.

MONAGHAN’S Kieran Hughes says out-going manager Malachy O’Rourke brought the county to a “different level” over the last seven seasons – and believes part of their downfall this year was due to the opposition beginning to work out the team's kick-out strategy.

O’Rourke bowed out as Farney manager in the immediate aftermath of the county’s surprise All-Ireland Qualifier Round Two defeat to Armagh in Clones on Saturday night.

The Derrylin native guided his adopted county to two Ulster titles in 2013 and 2015 and was desperately close to reaching last season’s All-Ireland final, only to be edged out of a memorable semi-final by Mickey Harte’s Tyrone.

Regarded as hugely popular among the Monaghan players, Hughes heaped praise on O’Rourke’s incredible contribution.

“The best way to describe it is you look at the teams that have beaten us over the last couple of years and what it’s meant to them,” explained the Scotstown clubman.

“Before he came in, it was nearly a surprise for us to beat those teams. It got to the stage where supporters and players made it a big deal to go out and beat Monaghan. That made you realise you were at the top level against the top teams. That’s when us, as players, realised that this man has got us onto a different level of thinking.”

Hughes, who battled back to full fitness after an injury-plagued NFL campaign, added: “Seven years in an inter-county job is a long time. It’s a lot of commitment. People tend to forget that he’s got a family too, and the backroom staff have families to look after. We can’t thank him enough. I’ve the utmost respect for him. It’s one of those days, that’s life.”

Under O’Rourke, Monaghan coped with adversity tremendously well.

They suffered a shock All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to Longford in 2016 and fell to Down in the Ulster semi-finals the following year, but they still managed to reach the All-Ireland quarter-finals that summer.

And with many pundits about to write off Monaghan’s chances, they recovered from a shock Ulster semi-final defeat to Fermanagh last year to put a fantastic run together through the back door – only to be pipped by Tyrone in the All-Ireland semis.

But from the start of 2019, Monaghan have looked flat, losing to Cavan in their provincial opener and falling again to Armagh last weekend.

However, Hughes maintains there is plenty of football left in the current squad and feels they can re-emerge as contenders again next season.

“I know there’s enough quality in there that we can get the show back on the road,” he said.

“If it had been Malachy staying, I’d have had full faith in him doing that. But that’s football. There’s a damn good camaraderie about that team. People are going to try and talk about a split and this sort of nonsense, but that team was never more together.

“Teams started to dissect us a wee bit more; they looked at Rory’s kick-outs in a wee bit more detail. I know if I was an opposition player against Rory Beggan, I’d be sitting down and sussing out where he’s kicking this ball to and go from there.

“I do believe a lot of teams have done that and curtailed him a wee bit. You have to just go back to the drawing board and see what works for us. You don’t turn into a bad team overnight. These boys were a point away from an All-Ireland final last year. You ask anyone that’s played at the top level, football can go in swings and roundabouts. I love the county, I love the jersey and I believe that’s the most quality that has ever been in a dressing room that I’ve been in.”

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