Finding way to pick Cavan lock O'Rourke's biggest test
MONAGHAN manager Malachy O'Rourke says all his team's energies are concentrated on finding a system to unlock Cavan's blanket defence in Saturday's Ulster SFC semi-final.
Owen Duffy, who damaged ankle ligaments in a club game since the Antrim match, remains the Farney's biggest injury worry, though midfielders Dick Clerkin (hand) and Eoin Lennon are also carrying knocks.
Jack Brady is Cavan's only injury doubt and O'Rourke says his biggest challenge is finding a way to unpick the Breffni lock. Monaghan already experienced it first hand this year when Terry Hyland's young side held their near neighbours to just 0-5 (2f) in a niggly league encounter that saw five players sent off.
Since then Cavan have had their first two-game run in Ulster in 12 years, and their confident ousting of Armagh and Fermanagh has underlined how difficult it is to find a way past their hard-working defensive system.
"We weren't short of players or anything when we met them in the league, they were just a lot better than us," O'Rourke said of that shock 1-10 to 0-5 defeat, which included just three points from play. "We found them extremely hard to break down and, if anything, their defensive system has got even better since."
His side, who subsequently scored 2-16 (0-3 from frees) when beating Meath in the Division 2 final, also failed to find their goal-scoring boots when they beat Antrim by 0-11 to 0-6 in a dour Ulster quarter-final, when they kicked 17 wides.
Antrim also lined out particularly defensively and O'Rourke stressed that the key to unleashing his side's considerable forward power lies with breaking down such defences.
"The way the game has gone now there's no point in teams having marquee forwards if you can't get the ball into them," he noted. "When you're closed down and can't release the ball with accuracy that's what happens.
"People are wondering, 'why aren't you getting it into the forwards?' but that's also very difficult to do when there could be two or three sweepers or spare players crowding out the defence.
"The big challenge for us is to find a way to break down Cavan's defensive system and we won't know whether we've got the right plan until Saturday night.
"They've come through two really tough championship games, their tails are up, they've won three Ulster U-21s in a row and they're full of confidence."
Even if Duffy doesn't make it, Monaghan are not short of attackers and Tommy Freeman, who scored 0-3 when he came off the bench against Cavan in the league, has played two club matches since the Antrim game.
"Just when he was coming back from injury he got a broken jaw so Tommy's been very unlucky and and was playing catch-up fitness-wise," O'Rourke said. "But the bit he played the last day and the club games since will have brought him on hugely."