If Armagh boss Paddy O’Rourke decided to do the Lotto today chances are that his chosen numbers might just come up.
In the risk-taking business that is county team management, O’Rourke’s recent gambles have paid off, yet in much the same manner as past performance in the stock market is no guarantee of future gains he is wisely taking nothing for granted as he prepares to embark on his Championship campaign as Orchard County manager.
O’Rourke has to date exercised patience, integrity and courtesy in equal measure as he watched players to whom he had given new roles, others in whom he had shown what some people considered undue faith and yet a few more who were thought to be past their sell-by date chart an increasingly impressive course through the National League to eventually earn the right to dine at the top table next year.
Now O’Rourke, no stranger to success as a player with Burren (All Ireland Club titles in 1986 and ’88) and Down whom he captained to their Sam Maguire Cup coup in 1994, is preparing for the biggest test of his fledgling managerial career when he pits his wits against Derry boss Damien Cassidy at Celtic Park in the Ulster Championship opener on Sunday.
And just as his considerable business nous is helping him to overcome the odds in the construction industry, in which he has been a director of his own company for several years, O’Rourke will rely on all his experience, commitment and pride to bring him what he hopes will prove a Championship debut coup.
“But it will be hard, very hard,” muses the tall, lean O’Rourke, who despite having reached the half-century in years still looks as if he could participate in the rigours of a club match.
“We are going in against a side who have not lost a Championship match in Celtic Park for sixteen years and who in my estimation have a lot of seriously good players including several household names.
“They have a raging hunger too and that is a great tool to take into any Championship while Damien Cassidy made it perfectly clear before a ball was kicked in the National League that an Ulster title is his prime goal this year,” he points out.
And he goes on: “Obviously we are very aware that the intensity level on Sunday will be the highest we will have experienced this year.
“Championship football is altogether different — the bar is raised considerably. My players know that their performance against Derry will be dissected in minute detail and that’s why they will be going flat out for victory.”
He views the fact that there is now a greater spread of scorers within his side as a considerable bonus and this is something he would like to see emphasised at Celtic Park.
“We have worked on this throughout the National League and if it were not the case that more players are scoring, then it would be easier for other teams to play against us,” insists O’Rourke. “Some of our defenders are regularly getting their names on the scoresheet and that’s now a key element of our overall strategy.”
His calm, controlled outlook and positive demeanour certainly suggests that Armagh will not be intimidated by Derry’s protracted unbeaten championship run at their headquarters and indeed hint at even better days lying ahead for the Orchard County.
Armagh: Paul Hearty, Andy Mallon, Kieran Toner, Brendan Donaghy, Paul Duffy , Ciaran McKeever, Finnian Moriarty, Charlie Vernon, James Lavery, Malachy Mackin, Aaron Kernan, Gareth Swift, Brian Mallon, Steven McDonnell, Ryan Henderson.