Malachy O’Rourke, the Monaghan manager, is one of the new breed of young and modern football managers with a shrewd tactical mind.
Some players are born to manage at the highest level and destined to be successful. Apart from Monaghan’s Ulster championship success last year, most of Malachy O’Rourke’s good days have been in club football.
His club management CV makes impressive reading with Ulster club success with Derry club, Loup, and county championship titles with Errigal Ciaran in Tyrone and Cavan Gaels in the Breffni County.
“He was a keen footballer and talked a lot about the game. But he never struck me as a player that would go into management and coaching especially at the highest level of inter-county football,” said former Donegal manager, P J McGowan, who did a stint as Fermanagh manager during O’Rourke’s playing days with his native county.
“He was one of the established players when I went there in 1991. He was a half-forward and kicked frees. He was very committed and a good trainer and was always keen to learn and was easy to manage.
“He was always interested in chatting about football but he didn’t show any signs that he would he would be one of the top managers in the game. In fairness to him he was still very young and his sole interest was in playing and improving his own game.”
But McGowan admits he is a county manager of some standing and one with a growing reputation which has really gone up a notch or two since being appointed as the Farney County boss in succession to Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney.
“He has done a very good job in Monaghan and has won Ulster, something that Banty McEnaney and others had failed to do for the previous 25 years.
“He has studied Donegal and other successful counties and adopted and tailored their systems to what best suits the players he has available to him.
“He has developed the players and given them belief and he is tactically very shrewd and I have no doubt he will have studied Donegal closely and he will have a game plan worked out for Donegal.
“He certainly got his tactics right for last year’s final and for this year’s Division Two league final. But in fairness, due to injuries and other distractions, we weren’t in a great place for last year’s final.
“As for the Division Two final the lads were just back from a week long training camp and from what I hear they also put in a serious hard week of training the week after they returned from the training camp. That was the week before the league final.
“Obviously Jim (McGuinness) had already turned his thoughts to the championship and felt they had to put in the hard graft to be right for the championship. Given the performance and win over Derry and win over Antrim, he has been vindicated.”
Given Donegal’s form so far and given that Jim McGuinness will be selecting from a fully fit squad, P J McGowan believes Donegal have Monaghan’s measure.
“We are in a much better place than we were ahead of last year’s final. I have watched the lads training a couple of times and they are going well. They are flying in training. Regardless what game plan Malachy O’Rourke conjures up I fancy us to be celebrating on Sunday evening.”