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O'Rourke keeps champions' feet on ground ahead of Armagh tie

By John Campbell

This time last year Monaghan were striving to shrug off the label of nearly men in the Ulster Championship.

Malachy O'Rourke was dipping his toe in the provincial waters for the first time as manager determined to end a six-year spell of frustration that had been endured under the enthusiastic baton of Seamus McEnaney.

Patience, a new-found resilience and a magnificent overall team performance in the final against Donegal finally propelled the Farney county onto the winners' rostrum for the first time in 25 years.

Now Enniskillen schoolteacher O'Rourke is hoping his side can replicate that achievement this year.

But, even though his side have already put paid to Tyrone's chances of reclaiming the title, he nonetheless believes that what is expected to be an under-strength Armagh side will still present "a serious threat" to his side tomorrow.

"I think that Armagh will want to show that their display against Cavan was not just a one-off affair," says O'Rourke, "They pose a serious threat to us."

And yet, while their more recent history undoubtedly burdened Monaghan with uncertainty and apprehension going into last year's championship, O'Rourke believes that these mental blocks have now been removed from his team's psyche.

"I think that compared to this time last year Monaghan have moved on," declares O'Rourke with conviction.

"They look a different team. People are saying there is a great confidence about them – not so much a swagger but certainly a level of belief that means they don't fear anyone."

For a number of years Monaghan became accustomed to playing second fiddle to Tyrone, particularly in the matches that really mattered.

Indeed, many Farney county followers had become resigned to the possibility that their team would not win an Ulster title in the foreseeable future.

But O'Rourke's tactical planning, motivational rhetoric and man-management skills completely transformed the Monaghan mind-set to such an extent that they won the provincial crown last year slowing up and in their most recent outing landed a first championship win over Tyrone since 1988. Monaghan's feet, though, remain firmly on the ground. O'Rourke believes that even if Armagh are still forced to play without the suspended Brendan Donaghy, Kieran Toner and Andy Mallon, as well as the injured Caolan Rafferty, their hunger and tradition will stand to them.

"The championship is a whole different ball game," insists O'Rourke.

"The challenge for us is to build on what we achieved last year and try to keep going on an upward curve.

"The players, the management, the county board – indeed everyone must try to push on and prove that last year was not just a flash in the pan."

"Armagh showed against Cavan that they can step up to the mark when the championship comes round.

"And the fact they were relegated in the league is soon forgotten when results such as this are delivered.

"They have the capacity to produce another big performance and we just have to be on our toes."

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