Hughes backs O’Rourke to inspire Farney
Monaghan may have endured a starvation diet in terms of success in recent years yet their talisman Darren Hughes is targeting a dual coup even though the season is still in its infancy.
Hughes is hoping that new manager Malachy O’Rourke can work the oracle — some would say miracle — by plotting the downfall of Tyrone in Saturday’s Power NI Dr McKenna Cup final at the Athletic Grounds (7.30pm) while he is also determined to lead Ulster to another inter-provincial championship triumph next month.
O’Rourke, the former Fermanagh boss, is still finding his feet in his new role with the Farney County but Hughes, the driving force behind Monaghan’s arrival in the McKenna Cup decider, is already convinced that he is just the man to bring the team onto a new pedestal.
“Malachy has freshened things up and given us all an infusion of optimism,” declared Hughes.
“I suppose this could be said of any new boss but there is a very positive vibe within the squad at the minute and this is one of the reasons why we have reached the McKenna Cup final.”
It was a brace of magnificent long-range points by Hughes himself that eventually saw Monaghan nose to a two-point victory over Down in Sunday’s semi-final but the inspirational centre-half-back acknowledges that it will take a much-improved performance if his side are to derive any joy from their joust with Mickey Harte’s buoyant Red Hands outfit.
“Tyrone will be a different proposition altogether,” he said.
“They appear to have a very strong squad and there is fierce competition for places.
“That is a good thing and the team will be out on Saturday not just to win the McKenna Cup but to show that they are ready for action in Division One of the league,” insisted Hughes, who will skipper Ulster in the inter-pro semi-final against Munster on February 17.
His sentiments are echoed by some of Monaghan’s most experienced players including Conor McManus, Dick Clerkin, Eoin Lennon and Paul Finlay.
Veteran midfielder Clerkin is in no doubt that Tyrone will offer the team “a massive test” on Saturday night.
“In terms of preparation for the league, we could not ask for a better fixture at this stage but having said that we have to show that we can respond to the challenge,” stressed 30-year-old Clerkin.
Manager O’Rourke, clearly relishing what he feels will be a stern examination of his team’s credentials, plans to summon a huge effort from his players.
“While we worked hard to grind out that win over Down, a lot of things did not go right for us and if that were to happen again, then Tyrone would punish us,” said O’Rourke.
“We turned over a lot of ball, our passing was not good, we got bottled up too easily and we did not do enough work off the ball.
“Let’s just say that there are a number of areas requiring attention,” he said.