Monday 25 September 2017

Dick Clerkin: Malachy O'Rourke should stay on, but his team needs a fresh approach

Malachy O’Rourke alone with his thoughts during the quarter-final defeat to Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Malachy O’Rourke alone with his thoughts during the quarter-final defeat to Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

Saturday's double-header was an abject occasion. The opening exchanges in both games set a tone of predictability that was never threatened.

The crowd reacted accordingly with a silence fuelled by indifference. Croke Park doesn't lend itself well to such games.

Such a waste of a crowd and occasion, I thought. The pre-match expectation among a sell-out crowd was swiftly replaced with a depressing dose of reality as Armagh and then Monaghan were dismissively cast aside by their vastly superior opponents.

The Tyrone-Dublin semi-final is a mouth-watering prospect, and there is clearly plenty to say about their merits. But that can wait. For the short time that they are still in the public consciousness, I can't avoid discussing Monaghan's latest quarter-final no-show.

Whatever about their poor performance, it was the sense of utter irrelevance that permeated around the ground afterwards that really frustrated me.

Irrelevant in the sense that for many, Monaghan are still in that bracket of teams that have no meaningful place in Croke Park past the first weekend in August.

Regrettably, Saturday was only ever going to be a sparring session for Dublin. In the end it wasn't even that, as Monaghan didn't manage to land a glove on their opponents.

Solace

Losing is never easy, but if you at least leave close to your best on the pitch, and are simply beaten by a better team on the day, some solace can be found.

For Monaghan, and manager Malachy O'Rourke, another poor quarter-final performance is difficult to stomach, and difficult to justify.

No Ulster final hangovers and a relatively comfortable qualifier sojourn should have delivered a team to Croke Park match-ready and hungry.

Instead, we witnessed a team lacking in any sense of belief or conviction about the challenge that faced them. For a team that have performed so admirably against Dublin in recent league meetings, it was hard to accept the apparent gulf in class.

Even allowing for Dublin's spring to summer step-up, Monaghan simply didn't turn up on Saturday. To say otherwise would be a cop-out.

Many post-match deliberations, within and outside the county, will go with the 'small population' excuse. Didn't we do well for such a small county etc? The same kind of patronising nonsense we hear time and time again, and I find it very hard to listen to.

Even on The Sunday Game the weekend before last, Donegal's Rory Kavanagh, who has lost to Monaghan more times that he would like to remember, couldn't resist the 'punching above their weight' cliché.

I have never bought that line. Whether you have 60,000 or 600,000 thousand of a population, doesn't matter one dot when you turn up any day and don't perform to anywhere close to your potential.

That said, unlike counties with All-Ireland-winning traditions, we seem to have low expectations outside our province - and that feeling around the county surely permeates into the players' psyche.

Páidí Ó Sé was once pilloried for denouncing Kerry fans as "animals", but those demanding supporters are the reason the Kingdom are never far away from the top of the pile.

Similar beasts now roam the prairies of Tyrone, not permitting any sustained drop in standards. Consider that in 2014 we beat Tyrone in the Ulster Championship, and gave them a trouncing in the following year's League. Mickey Harte's head was being called for.

Mickey was defiant, but he knew the level they had dipped to couldn't be justified long term, and only a rise towards All-Ireland potential would suffice. Mickey has delivered. Tyrone have progressed.

All the while Monaghan have stood still. Another provincial success in 2015 was sufficient bounty for the appeasing Monaghan support.

Malachy doesn't need to hear it from me, but the hard truth of Saturday's performance will be a difficult one to wrestle with for even the most forgiving Monaghan fans - a frustration compounded by our northern neighbours once again looking down on us.

The question on everyone's mind will be, can this Monaghan team go to the next level, and is Malachy the man to bring them there?

Having thought about it in the hours since, I believe he is. But not unconditionally. After freshening up his backroom team this year with the addition of Eoin Lennon and Colin McAree, he must adopt a fresh approach to how Monaghan are going to go about building a team that can thrive in Croke Park.

Averaging only 12 points over the last four quarter-final appearances isn't a good enough return. Scorers cannot unilaterally make way for workers any more.

Unearth

Even at the cost of Division on status he needs to build towards a Croke Park team and unearth some new attacking options.

Also, players need to be honest and question why they have constantly underperformed at that level, and work towards rectifying that.

It will be a difficult week for Malachy and the players.

The few remaining players of my vintage - Vinnie Corey, Dessie Mone and Stephen Gollogly - are likely to depart the scene, yet a strong core panel remains.

Monaghan's style of play looked tired on Saturday, and gave no energy to a county that thrives on intensity.

However, when the dust settles Monaghan can look ahead to next year confident that they can road-test a new approach against top-flight opposition; they can also claim to be the second best team in the province.

Believe me, there are worse places to be starting from.

Irish Independent

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