Malachy O’Rourke has a holiday home in Rossnowlagh but any love of the county will be put on hold under after the final whistle on Sunday next.
The schoolteacher in Enniskillen is one of the new breed of young, articulate managers who are shaping the way the game is being played at intercounty level.
O’Rourke, a native of Derrylin, has amassed a huge management portfolio including taking Fermanagh to the brink of history in 2008, losing out to Armagh after a replay.
On that occasion one of the Maguire county’s best players, Rory Gallagher, was not part of the panel, working for the BBC when his presence on the field could have made the difference.
We will never know. Gallagher returned to the Fermanagh colours in 2010 under O’Rourke, but on Sunday next they will be in opposition for different counties.
O’Rourke’s CV includes guiding Derry side, Loup, to an Ulster club title while he has won club championships in Tyrone, Cavan and Monaghan with Errigal Ciaran, Cavan Gaels and Latton respectivevly.
In Monaghan he has Ryan Porter as trainer and at the Ulster final press day, he sidestepped a question regarding Porter’s knowledge of Donegal, having trained Donegal under Brian McIver.
“It’s all about the players. They have done the hard work. When we sat down at the start of the year, our big goal was to get out of Division Three. Then we achieved that and it was a bonus to win the final (against Meath).
“Then when we looked at the draw for the Ulster championship, we felt we had a realistic chance of getting to the final and again we have achieved that. I suppose in many ways, we are in bonus territory.
“But when you get to an Ulster final, you want to put your best foot forward; you want to give yourself every chance of winning it. We know it’s an uphill task. We know we have been written off by everybody and we understand why that is. But we are determined to prepare well and be as competititive as we can,” said O’Rourke,
Are there any benefits to be had from managing Fermanagh to go so close in 2008, losing out to Armagh in a replay.
“The handling of the occasion and the build up to it gives you a wee bit of experience, but having said that Monaghan have already been to two Ulster finals, so that probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s more, at this stage, in getting a big performance on the day. It’s very easy to be distracted by different things; by the occasion, by things that happen on the day; by things that other people are saying. It’s about focussing on getting things right.
“We haven’t really talked about winning the game or anything else. All we’re concentrating on is trying to get the best possible performance from the group of players we have.
“We felt we didn’t do that in either of the games we have won so far in the championship. We know that if we get a performance similar than that, we don’t have a chance against Donegal. We’re realistic enough to know that. We’re just trying to get the best possible performance on the day.”
Asked if this final would have any similarity to 2008, he said: “This is a completely different game. I suppose by then Armagh were coming to the end of their reign in Ulster whereas Donegal are in the start of middle of their period of dominance. We know it’s an unbelievable task ahead of us but it’s one we’re really looking forward to.
“Donegal, in fairness, their game plan has changed football to a degree. They have been very definite about the way they want to play football and because teams have found it so difficult to break them down, other teams now are looking, is this way to play if you want to have success.
“If you meet Donegal, you have to plan how to handle that; how you can break it down and so on. The other thing about Donegal at the minute is that they have brought preparations to a new level as well, even with regard to preparations. I know at the start of the season we went away for a couple of nights to Johnston House; I know Donegal were there for four or five nights before us. They stayed overnight before their games and the level of professionalism they have brought into it has really set the bar very, very high.
“I know the Monaghan Co. Board have been very, very good to us but we probably wouldn’t have the resources that Donegal have at the minute,” said O’Rourke, who said that he wouldn’t comment on whether there was a gulf between the top teams and the second tier until the end of the championship season.”
In their game against Cavan, O’Rourke made a tough call in dropping Paul Finlay.
“I think the boys know that we’re trying to be as honest as we can. When we sit down to pick a team, we pick it on form in training; we pick it on what we feel is the best team to win us the match. It’s not really about individuals.
“You mention the two fellas (Paul Finlay and Tommy Freeman). Paul, the last day was very disappointed to be dropped, but he took it really well and it’s a measure of the men they are, that they accepted it, the come back and they trained harder and are prepared to give everything for Monaghan to win.
“I knew there was a great nucleus of experienced players and also a good number of young players coming through. Being involved with your home county is slightly different, there’s a different emotion attached to it. But when you get involved with any group of players, you have to get attached emotionally with them. It just about concentrating totally on getting the best out of them.”