Tuesday 22 October 2019

'It is with a heavy heart I am doing so' - Malachy O'Rourke steps down as Monaghan boss following defeat to Armagh

Malachy O'Rourke has stepped down as Monaghan manager
Malachy O'Rourke has stepped down as Monaghan manager

Sean McGoldrick

Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke resigned after his side became the highest profile team to be knocked out of the 2019 race for Sam Maguire when they were hammered by Armagh in Clones.

"I have been there for seven years. It is with a heavy heart I am doing so," said O'Rourke.

"I have had a brilliant time with the boys. They are a massive group of players, the County Board, the sponsors, my background team. Everybody has been brilliant.

"We have had some unbelievable days together and a few disappointments along the way too. Look whatever is the best thing for the players. I think at this stage that maybe a fresh voice and fresh impetus would be the best thing to rejuvenate the thing so I am stepping down today."

Fermanagh native O'Rourke is the third football manager to resign this summer following the departure of Wexford boss Paul McLoughlin and Liam Kearns who was Tipperary manager.

Beaten by a single point in last year's All-Ireland semi-final by Tyrone, Monaghan never managed to generate the same level of momentum in this year's series.

But the manner of their defeat was a surprise. Trailing by a point at the break they were totally outclassed in the second half, only managing to scored 1-2, and the game was effectively over when Jack McCarron hit his 66th minute goal.

Full-forward Rian O'Neill hit 2-1 for Armagh but the Orchard County had 12 other scorers as they produced their most complete performance of the year. Not surprisingly, they were afforded a standing ovation as they made their way off the field.

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Even though O'Rourke still had a year to run on his contract with Monaghan, this loss represents the end of an era for the Ulster side who have consistently defied the odds to mix it with the best since winning the provincial title in O'Rourke's first season in 2013.

In retrospect, last year was their chance to make history and reach an All-Ireland final for the first time in nearly 90 years. They may now have to wait a generation for their next opportunity.

Even though they fluffed their lines badly in their two games against Cavan in the Ulster semi-final, Armagh have traditionally done well in the qualifiers. They will look forward to Monday's Round 3 draw and nobody would fancy a trip to the Athletic Grounds next weekend.

The throw-in was delayed by ten minutes due to congestion at the turnstiles, but when the action finally got underway it was nothing short of breathtaking with eight points — six from play — scored in the first ten minutes.

Aidan Forker was Conor McManus's designated man-marker with Fintan Kelly effectively operating as a sweeper while Jarlath Óg Burns returned to partner Niall Grimley at midfield for Armagh.

The teams were level on three occasions in the early exchanges which featured an exhibition of point-taking from Armagh defenders who poured through a porous Monaghan defence.

Mark Shields, Brendan Donaghy and Paul Hughes all scored early points as Armagh maximised their opportunities, though O'Neill did miss a straight forward 20m free after 14 minutes.

Even though they were playing against the breeze, Armagh gradually eased ahead. By the end of the first quarter eight of their players had got on the scoresheet with Stefan Campbell, Jemar Hall and Aidan Nugent all scoring from play to give the visitors an 0-8 to 0-5 advantage.

But two excellently struck 45s from Monaghan's All Star goalkeeper Rory Beggan within 90 seconds brought the margin back to the minimum and McManus's third converted free levelled the game as Armagh's kick-out strategy suddenly went awry.

Four in a row from Blaine Hughes went astray, but Monaghan didn't take full advantage, although Michael Bannigan — a late replacement for Shane Carey — did give Monaghan the lead. Kieran Hughes squandered a brace of chances.

Once Armagh sorted out their re-starts they dominated the closing stages of the half, outscoring Monaghan 0-3 to 0-1 to lead at the break 0-11 to 0-10.

When Armagh corner-forward Andrew Murnin fisted a 38th minute point it meant their six forwards had all scored in the first period during which Jamie Clarke had given Ryan Wylie a torrid time.

Grimley became the 11th different player to score early in the second half after a free from McManus was held by goalkeeper Hughes at the other end — ominously it was the fourth shot that Monaghan had dropped short.

Monaghan's Kieran Duffy was black carded after 44 minutes as they trailed by three points. Armagh slowed the pace but they must have been conscious that their game management skills had let them down in the final quarter of their previous three games.

Monaghan had appeals for a penalty turned down before the game took a decisive turn in the 49th minute when Aidan Nugent got clear on the left flank. Beggan brilliantly smothered his effort but O'Neill secured the rebound, held his nerve and slotted the ball to the net to give his side a seven-point advantage with 20 minutes left.

After 23 scoreless minutes, Monaghan finally opened their second half account with a Dessie Ward point, but it scarcely mattered as in the next play Clarke wriggled free from the attentions of three Monaghan defenders to provide the final assist for the unmarked O'Neill to score his second goal.

McCarron's goal came too late to save Monaghan and substitute Charlie Vernon wrapped up the scoring with a point in the sixth minute of injury time.

Scorers — Monaghan: C McManus 0-5, (4f), J McCarron 1-1, R Beggan 0-2, (2 45s), K Hughes, M Bannigan, C McCarthy, D Ward 0-1 each. Armagh: R O'Neill 2-1 (1f), J Clarke 0-3 (2f), J Hall J Og Burns 0-2 each; M Shields, P Hughes, B Donaghy, A Nugent, S Campbell, A Murnin, N Grimley, A Forker, C Vernon 0-1 each.

Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, C Boyle, R Wylie; K O'Connell, V Corey, D Ward; N Kearns, K Hughes; F Kelly, C McCarthy, R McAnespie, J McCarron, C McManus, M Bannigan. Subs: D Wylie for Duff (BC) 46; D Mone for McCarthy 50; S O'Hanlon for Bannigan 50; S Carey for McAnespie 54; B McGinn for Kearns 59

Armagh: B Hughes; P Burns, A McKay, A Forker; B Donaghy, M Shields, P Hughes; J Og Burns, N Grimley; A Nugent, S Campbell, J Hall; J Clarke, R O'Neill, A Murnin. Subs: R Grugan for Murnin 41; C Vernon for Grimley 67m; J Duffy for Nugent 70 + 1, J McElroy for Burns 70 +5

Referee: Ciaran Branagan (Down)

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