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Monaghan v Tryone: O'Rourke relieved to shake monkey off Oriel's back

By John Campbell

Twenty-six years is a long time to endure a monkey riding on your back. But yesterday Monaghan at long last rid themselves of this unwanted burden when they finally laid Tyrone low in an Ulster Championship tie.

For their extremely grounded manager Malachy O'Rourke, the one-point win chiselled out in a ferocious, frenetic climax to what was a passionate encounter elicited feelings of elation, pride and, perhaps most importantly of all, realism.

Indeed, it's O'Rourke's ability to keep his feet on the ground even after a year in which he has almost single-handedly re-invented Monaghan's status that ensures the pursuit of perfection will continue to remain a constant goal.

"When you have gone over a quarter of a century without beating a particular team in the Championship this becomes another obstacle that you have to try and clear if you are to make progress," said O'Rourke.

"The fact that we won here is just a great relief for the players in particular. Some of them have suffered heavy defeats in the past against Tyrone and now today they have turned the corner.

"But I have to keep stressing that Tyrone are not out of the Championship. In the build-up to this game we had to be sure that our team's record against Tyrone was not going to be something that would stop us from winning.

"We had to make sure that the players were totally focused and were not just worried about the past. At the same time we had to recognise that the dismal record against Tyrone was there, there was no point in pretending that it did not exist.

"We faced up to the fact that things did not go well in the past and we were determined to try and change that on this occasion and happily we did that."

Once again in the Championship, major team alterations were the order of the day immediately prior to the throw-in with O'Rourke pitching Ryan Wylie, Chris McGuinness and Conor McManus in for Padraig Donaghy, Paul Finlay and Jack McCarron.

And it was O'Rourke's bold decision to start McManus that proved a master-stroke. He landed six frees, might have had another couple of scores and even though he was not at his sharpest in open play, he still managed to keep at least one and for the most part two defenders fully occupied throughout the game.

"We were away last weekend as part of our build-up and Conor played no football at all. Then as the week went on he began to do some more work including twisting and turning," explained O'Rourke.

"He began to grow in confidence and when we consulted with the medical people they assured us that there was no risk of damage being caused that would have ruled him out for the season.

"When we added all the things up together we felt it was worth taking the risk that was involved. He is a key man for us and his free-kicking alone showed that in this particular game."

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