'Ambition could not be stronger' - Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke
Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30
Kevin McStay said they had "that bit of grizzle about them", but what really pleased Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke in last Sunday's win over Roscommon was the positive attitude they displayed in the first real challenge of the new season.
"I don't know about the grizzle. But there were certainly aspects that pleased me and obviously some that didn't. Overall, though, it was a good performance.
"Even in the first half (against the strong wind) we played well but didn't finish as many of our chances as we would have liked," said O'Rourke.
Roscommon, playing their first Division 1 game for several years, led by seven points early in the second half and remained stubbornly defiant for a long time before being finally beaten by a late goal by Conor McManus.
Monaghan's experience was a major asset, enabling them to retain their composure even when finding scores hard to come by early in the second half.
"We knew we wouldn't wipe out the lead in the first five or six minutes so it was important to stay calm and continue working.
"It's what you have to do in games like that. At this time of year it's all about not getting too upset if you lose or too elated if you win. You have to keep a balance," said O'Rourke.
Having won two of the last three Ulster titles, followed by defeats by Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final, the big question surrounding Monaghan is whether they have levelled out or possess another gear to drive on towards higher peaks.
O'Rourke is convinced the scope for improvement is still there, leaving him and the squad tasked with harnessing it.
"Some people seem to think that this is an older panel, yet of the team that played last Sunday, Dessie Mone was the only one over 30.
"The nucleus of the squad is quite young and I can say for certain that the drive and ambition of the entire group could not be stronger. There's absolutely no doubt about that."
While it's very much a game-by-game approach during the National League, the bigger picture is always looming in the background as Monaghan attempt to find that little extra, which has eluded them in their recent visits to Croke Park as Ulster champions.
"You're always looking for ways of improving and how you can tweak tactics and style. You've got to adapt as you go along - no team can stand still," he said.
Still, neither tactics nor style had anything to do with the defeat by Tyrone last August on a day when Monaghan never recaptured their Ulster Championship form en route to a four-point defeat.
"That's what made it so frustrating. We were flat and didn't play anything like we can. It's hard after a game like that when you know there's a lot more in the team but your chance is gone for the season but all you can do is grin and bear it. We've got to make sure that if we get there again, we do better," said O'Rourke.
Having won the first of their three 'away' games, Monaghan have set themselves up to challenge strongly for a top-four place, which would earn them a semi-final place for a second successive year.
However, O'Rourke is wary of their first 'home' assignment against Down in Clones on Sunday, fearing a Mourne backlash after the big defeat by Donegal last weekend.
"Down know that they didn't play well and will be very determined to make amends. So we've got to make absolutely sure that we bring same attitude as we had last Sunday.
"We can't drop off in any way. Things can change very quickly in the League so you have to be tuned in all the time. We got a good start to the season last Sunday but that's all it was - a start. Down will have targeted this as a game they can win, even after losing last week," he said.