Brendan Crossan: Malachy O'Rourke - the percentages man everywhere he's been
MALACHY O’Rourke is one of life’s good guys. From he emerged on the inter-county managerial circuit in 2007 to now, he hasn’t changed an awful lot.
Win, lose or draw, there was always an unerring steadiness, a consistency about the Derrylin man.
Like all new managers on the inter-county circuit, he was probably slightly reticent in his dealings with media at first, but realised we didn’t bite.
He’s still not dying about the media spotlight falling on him; he’d quicker put his players or backroom staff up for interview rather than himself.
He should’ve won an Ulster title in 2008 with his native Fermanagh as there was still a kick in them four years after gate-crashing the All-Ireland semi-finals.
Armagh, the eventual winners of the Anglo-Celt Cup that year - after a replay - were past their best.
By that stage, Joe Kernan had stepped down. The McEntees were gone. Oisin McConville was spending more time on the bench than he’d care to remember.
And ‘Geezer’ was cutting his managerial teeth down in Kildare. Things weren’t the same. Armagh had lost the X-factor.
So, from that point of view, Peter McDonnell of Mullaghbawn did well to squeeze another provincial crown out of the Orchard men in '08, with Paul McGrane, Stevie McDonnell and Aidan O’Rourke still raging against the dying of the light.
Still, Fermanagh should have put them away in the first game in Clones. Although he ultimately didn’t reach the Holy Grail with Fermanagh, O’Rourke had shown enough managerial and tactical nous to suggest he would be a success at elite level.
Things ran their course at Fermanagh as the class of ’04 slowly ebbed from the Erne team-sheet, but standards had been raised nonetheless during O’Rourke’s time there.
He'd re-emerge in Monaghan a couple of years later where he would change the course of that county's history in remarkable fashion.
As tactical masterclasses go, Monaghan's 2013 Ulster Championship final win over defending All-Ireland champions Donegal was as close as you'll get to flawless.
Monaghan's patient use of the ball, the width they got in their attacking play, the decision-making and clever incisions against Donegal's blanket defence were brilliant.
In a recent interview with Conor McManus, he was adamant that Monaghan’s success was engineered by O’Rourke.
“Malachy definitely got the best out of me,” McManus said. “He just put a confidence in you where he had you walking on water.
“It’s not one thing that he says or does. It’s just his demeanour, his constant interaction with you all the time. It’s not that he comes in and gives you a one-to-one speech; there’s not one thing where you could say Malachy told me and that it was a turning point.
“It’s his whole approach to the whole game and your understanding of the whole game. It’s very hard to say Malachy O’Rourke is one thing – he’s a multitude of things, he’s the whole package.
“He can motivate you, he is a great man-manager, he’s very switched on, tactically.”
He added: “For those Ulster finals (2013 and 2015), we couldn’t have been any better prepared than what we were. The amount of time and effort we spent on the most minute of details, you just knew there was nothing more we could have done to be prepared for those games.
“And if you’re going into a game feeling like that, you’re nearly going out just to spit it all out. It’s like studying for an exam, knowing what’s coming and learning it off by heart. We were that confident because we had the work done and Leo [McBride] and Ryan [Porter] were excellent and they worked so well together as a group.”
Last season, McManus attended some of Glen's championship matches and could see O'Rourke's fingerprints all over them: the patience in possession, familiar movements of players, keeping width as often as possible, always moving the ball.
McManus came away feeling "jealous" of what the Glen players were getting.
O’Rourke spent seven years in Monaghan. You’d glimpse his beaming smile after many big championship wins, but he also faced the music when they lost to Longford in the 2016 All-Ireland Qualifiers.
And that’s the thing about O’Rourke: loyalty.
He could've walked away with two Ulster titles stitched to his CV and stepped into another top inter-county job. But he stayed and gave the Monaghan supporters some more great days out – none more so than that unforgettable Super 8s game against Kerry at a heaving Clones in 2018.
Over the past 18 months or more, when there were some attractive inter-county managerial posts needed filling, O’Rourke’s name was invariably linked with them.
But O’Rourke has never been in the business of leaving teams, mid-project.
“He’s arguably up there with the best managers in Ireland so we understand counties are going to be looking for him and that comes with the territory,” said Glen defender Michael Warnock.
“Thankfully, wherever Malachy has gone, he’s stayed for a period of time. The longer he stays with us - the better for us.”
So much of what we do in life is about timing.
You could say the timing was just about right for O’Rourke to take the reins in Monaghan as they always had a couple of Ulster titles in them.
But, given the team's fortunes before he arrived in 2012, does anyone seriously believe Monaghan would have won two Ulster titles without O'Rourke?
And you look at the trajectory of this special group of footballers at Watty Grahams and just how prolific their core group has been at underage level.
But nothing is preordained just because there have been clean sweeps at juvenile level. Maybe Glen would have got their hands on the John McLaughlin Cup at some point with or without O’Rourke coming on board. Or maybe not.
But, at the very highest level of sport, there’s a deep appreciation of how ruthless the margins are. You need someone to deliver that extra few percent.
O’Rourke and his trusted assistant Ryan Porter have undoubtedly delivered those percentages at the south Derry club as this group of Glen players ponder the absolutely awesome opportunity of becoming All-Ireland champions at Croke Park tomorrow afternoon.
Everywhere he's gone, Malachy O'Rourke has added a few per cent, that elusive few per cent.
And it has made a heap of difference to the careers of so many young footballers.
"He’s an absolute gentleman but he’s also teak tough," McManus said of his former manager.
"He’s there to improve you and help you but he’s there to win too - make no mistake about that.”