All Ireland Football Championship: Aidan O’Rourke is Kildare's man with a plan
Former Armagh All Ireland winner Aidan O’Rourke enjoys a close relationship with James McCartan.
They formed the Queen’s University club’s management partnership before O’Rourke took sole charge earlier this year following McCartan’s appointment as Down boss.
And when O’Rourke subsequently succeeded Paul Grimley as No 2 to Kieran McGeeney at Kildare, he remained in contact with his former Queen’s managerial colleague. Indeed, it was O’Rourke who sent a text to McCartan just last week conveying the news that Justin McNulty had been appointed as manager of Laois.
But on Sunday O’Rourke and McCartan will be poles apart when Down bid to reach the All Ireland final at Kildare’s expense.
Newry businessman O’Rourke has been credited with tweaking the Lily Whites defensive set-up and curbing their tendency to concede frees while McGeeney’s overall tactical know-how and motivational skills have helped to take the side to the threshold of an All Ireland final appearance against Cork.
O’Rourke is a member of a famous Dromintee football family and three of his brothers — Cathal, Martin and Micheal — have all represented Armagh. And his knowledge of Down club football is such that he now has a key role in the planning that will go into Sunday’s game.
But the quiet-spoken O’Rourke, who was prevailed upon by the then manager Peter McDonnell to return to the Armagh colours for a brief period early last year, is well aware that in James McCartan Kildare will be encountering a shrewd footballing brain.
“James has got Down playing to a certain pattern and that does not surprise me in the least. He is very single-minded and knows what he wants from his players. It is no coincidence that Down have been getting big scores and have been showing consistency. They have a lot of very good players but even more importantly James has established an excellent team ethic,” states O’Rourke.
McCartan himself, aware that his team’s handsome win over Kildare in the National League will count for nothing in the context of Sunday’s game, is quick to point out that O’Rourke will have Kildare “set out in a certain way at the back”.
And he goes on: “Aidan and Kieran will have their homework done, you can be sure of that. From the minute we beat Kerry they will have been laying their plans for us. The fact that both Kildare and Down have already played in Croke Park this year will help and I think this has the makings of a great game.”
Kildare, disappointed that they did not make a bigger impact in the Leinster championship, have since morphed into a strong, attacking side with rich resources on their bench.