Monaghan need a fresh voice, admits O'Rourke after tame exit
Armagh 2-17 Monaghan 1-12
Less than five months ago as Monaghan fans streamed out of Clones having watched their side record a famous win over All-Ireland champions Dublin, they could never have contemplated that their team would fall asunder so quickly.
Their fans were again streaming out of St Tiernach's Park on Saturday night, but this time at the hour mark after Rian O'Neill's second goal for Armagh signalled the end of Monaghan's summer ambitions.
Their exit also marked the end of Malachy O'Rourke's seven-season term in charge. The Fermanagh native announced he was quitting moments after the final whistle sounded.
Monaghan were playing Division 3 football when he took charge in 2012. In his first season they won two trophies; the Division 3 League title and the Ulster title - the latter for the first time in 25 years.
Another Ulster title followed in 2015; they played in the top flight of the Allianz League for five consecutive seasons and came within a point of reaching the All-Ireland final last year. It has been Monaghan's golden era.
"We have had some unbelievable days together," acknowledged O'Rourke, who was at a loss to explain why the team had struggled so badly in the 2019 Championship.
Though the manner of the eight-point loss was surprising, the result itself could hardly be classified as a shock given Monaghan's performances against Cavan and Fermanagh this summer.
"I don't know to be honest. It wasn't for any lack of effort on anybody's behalf," the Monaghan boss insisted. "We trained hard, the boys worked really hard.
"But sometimes it just works like that. We just couldn't get that spark we were looking for. We just didn't look to have the same freshness that we had at other times.
"I suppose at this stage that's why I am saying it is time for a fresh voice. It is important for the players that they are rejuvenated. They are still a young team; they are still in the first division. There is lots to look forward too and I'll pass the baton on to somebody else."
It remains to be seen whether the game is a sign of a team on the decline but arguably this was Armagh's most accomplished Championship performance during Kieran McGeeney's five-year reign.
Granted the Orchard county always play their best football in the All-Ireland qualifiers, and on paper this could have been a typical Ulster championship encounter, but Monaghan simply didn't or couldn't defend.
They deployed Fintan Kelly as their sole sweeper but were utterly powerless to prevent Armagh pouring through their defensive lines. Thirteen Armagh players - including four defenders - got on the scoresheet and their economy of effort was commendable as they hit 19 scores from 24 shots.
Save for a brief spell in the second quarter when Monaghan's full-court press on Blaine Hughes' restarts saw Armagh cough up four on the spin and, with it four points, the visitors were mostly in charge.
They led by a point at the break (0-11 to 0-10) after playing into the breeze and a brace of goals from Rian O'Neill in the 50th and 59th minutes respectively - the latter set up by the irrepressible Jamie Clarke - put the game beyond Monaghan's reach.
Even when Jack McCarron hit a deflected goal in the 66th minute to cut the deficit to seven points, there wasn't the slightest hint that Armagh would unravel as they did in the latter stages of the Down and Cavan games.
Such was the poverty of Monaghan's second-half effort they didn't score for 23 minutes after the restart as they were outscored 1-2 to 2-6.
Armagh's performance was described as "very good" by their assistant manager Jim McCorry.
"We couldn't have all youse writing again about how we couldn't close games out," he said. "That was getting a bit boring. But it was true because we hadn't been closing games out that we should have done. So it is important that we did that."
O'Rourke suggested that the future is still bright for Monaghan, but there was an unmistakable feeling that this loss marked the end of an era.
Rarely in the last seven seasons has every Monaghan player lost his individual battle in a big game but that's what happened on Saturday evening as this team ran out of road.
scorers - 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: C McManus 0-5 (4f); J McCarron 1-1; R Beggan 0-2 (2 '45); K Hughes, M Bannigan, C McCarthy, D Ward (0-1) each.
Armagh - B Hughes 7; P Burns 7, A McKay 7; A Forker 7, B Donaghy 8, M Shields 8 P Hughes 8; N Grimley 7; J Og Burns 8; A Nugent 7, Campbell 7; J Hall 8; J Clarke 9, R O'Neill 8, A Murnin 7. Subs: R Grugan 7 for Murnin 41, C Vernon 7 for Grimley 67; J Duffy (NA) for Nugent 70+1; J McElroy (NA) for Burns 70 + 5.
Monaghan - R Beggan 6; K Duffy 5; C Boyle 5; R Wylie 5; K O'Connell 5; V Corey 5; D Ward 5; N Kearins 5; K Hughes 6; F Kelly 5, C McCarthy 5; R McAnespie 5; J McCarron 6; C McManus 6, M Bannigan 5. Subs: D Wylie 5 for Duffy (BC) 46, S Hanlon 5 for Bannigan 50, S Carey 5 for McAnespie 54; B McGinn 5 for Kearins.
Ref - C Brannigan (Down)