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Monaghan have their sights set on lifting big prize

By John Campbell

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke has received a triple boost in advance of Saturday's eagerly-anticipated All-Ireland Senior Football Championship quarter-final against Tyrone.

Enniskillen schoolteacher O'Rourke has just become the latest winner of the Quinn Building Products Ulster GAA Writers' Association monthly merit award, his All-Star full-back Drew Wylie is available again having recovered from injury and the indications are that Monaghan will enjoy massive vocal backing at Headquarters.

Having guided the Farney County to two Ulster titles in the last three years, O'Rourke's personal stock has soared but the Fermanagh native is now keen to see his side conquer new horizons.

"For the moment, our focus is on Tyrone this Saturday," stated O'Rourke. "When you look at the way they have progressed through the qualifiers and the level of confidence they have gained, you just know they are going to be very difficult opponents."

It was Monaghan's nail-biting win over Donegal in last month's Ulster decider that clinched the writers' award for O'Rourke.

The manner in which he set up his team to counter the attacking threats that Donegal posed underlined his elevated status as a manager and has spawned the hope that he can take his side into the last four of the All-Ireland series.

"It was a big surprise to me to win the writers' award," admitted O'Rourke. "The game against Donegal was very tight but our players weathered the storm very well. I was delighted with the result, naturally, and now to win this award is a bonus not just for me but for everyone connected with the team."

An intense rivalry has surfaced between Tyrone and Monaghan which has lent an extra dimension to the build-up to Saturday's game but O'Rourke remains unflappable as he pinpoints what he believes to be the opposition's strong points.

"Tyrone are a good mix of youth and experience, they have a number of players who have vast experience of playing at Croke Park and they are strong physically as well as being very fit," stressed O'Rourke.

"All this combines to make them a very driven and focused side. And of course they have a top-class manager in Mickey Harte, who is well accustomed to having big days out at Croke Park."

Monaghan's wins over Cavan, Fermanagh and Donegal en route to the Ulster title have further solidified the spirit within the side and the fact that full-back Wylie is in the frame for selection is a major fillip.

Wylie said: "It was great to win the Ulster title and to be going back to Croke Park again is tremendous for this Monaghan side."

And Monaghan's vast army of fans are preparing to transform the stadium into a sea of blue and white.

The outpouring of emotion, passion and unbridled enthusiasm in the immediate aftermath of the Ulster final surprised even the battle-hardened O'Rourke and has proved a further incentive for the side to bring their 'A' game to Headquarters.

O'Rourke added: "We want to put on the best show possible for our fans. They have followed us through thick and thin and we know there is nowhere that we would all rather be than in Croke Park in August."

He beat off the challenge of Fermanagh ace Tomas Corrigan, handball duo Maeve McElduff and Declan Doherty, Donegal Ladies football star Geraldine McLaughlin and his own county ace Conor McManus to win the writers' accolade.

O'Rourke received a Belleek Living Vase, gear from O'Neill's International Sportswear, specially crafted cuff-links from Carlingford Design House, a filled medical bag from Knightsbrook Hospital Belfast and two tickets to the writers' banquet in Bundoran on Friday, November 13.

All-Ireland SFC QF: Croke Park, Monaghan v Tyrone, Sat 4.00pm

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