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Monaghan players won't settle for less than Sam Maguire triumph, says Malachy

By Declan Bogue

With the departure of Eamonn Fitzmaurice from his Kerry role, Monaghan's Malachy O'Rourke has become the second-longest serving county manager behind Tyrone's Mickey Harte.

When he took over the side in the winter of 2012, he surveyed his panel and their frame of mind. They had suffered successive relegations and started life in Division Three. Previous incumbent Eamonn McEneaney had spent his two years refashioning the side.

By the middle of the 2013 summer, Monaghan were Ulster champions, beating the reigning Sam Maguire kingpins Donegal in the final. Look at the names of that starting 15 and the job that O'Rourke has done. Only Eoin Lennon (now on the coaching staff), Paul Finlay, Stephen Gollogly and Padraig Donaghy have left the panel.

It is tempting to consider the panel has been flipped, but on closer inspection he has trimmed and clipped in a careful husbandry.

"I'm not even sure what the turnover is. There would be change but there'd be a core group that would still be there, and those boys have given us serious commitment over those six years," O'Rourke reflected this week as he geared up for the All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone.

"The amount of fellas there that have never missed a training session in that time, have maybe missed one or two, every season when we have 36 on the panel. We had that starting off this year and the 36 are here every single night.

"Sometimes the fellas who aren't making the 26 are forgotten about but they're making a massive effort."

If O'Rourke was looking for opportune times to leave, he had a few.

One example sticks out more than others. After losing an Ulster semi-final replay to Donegal in 2016, they suffered a total collapse in the qualifiers, bombing out at the hands of Longford.

O'Rourke doesn't flinch when he recalls that loss, instead reflecting on the lessons gleaned from that sunny Saturday.

"Longford was very disappointing. There's a lot of resilience built up in the group. We always felt we were working hard, and when we got over that initial disappointment there was a hunger and desire to get back and show that there was more in us than that, and that's the way it turned out. We've had disappointments along the way," he says, before drawing a line from there to here, two years on, in Monaghan's first semi-final since 1988.

"Obviously it's great to get to the All-Ireland semi-final but, especially when there's only a week between the games, that soon loses its value. We're very aware that we have to go out next Sunday and try to put in another good performance," he states.

"It's a stage we haven't been at before as a group, and Tyrone have been there three times in the last five years, so there's a wee bit of an advantage that way.

"It's just a matter of really concentrating on our performance and getting ourselves physically and mentally right to give as good a performance as we can," he adds.

How easy it would have been for Monaghan to slink out of the Championship after they came within seconds of beating Kerry for the first time in Championship, a few short weeks ago in Clones.

"We just felt after the Kerry game that we were caught at the death. And maybe a lot of people thought we had missed our chance," O'Rourke explains.

"As a group, we chatted straight away amongst ourselves and we felt that we were still very much alive, we were sitting in a great position with three points out of four, we were going into the last game and had to get a point to get through.

"We went down in a very positive frame of mind. We felt it was a massive thing for the supporters and they have waited 30 years to get to an All-Ireland semi-final, it is a massive thing.

"That's what football is all about, you want to see those scenes, and as far as the management and players are concerned, we just had to straight away get focussed for this week, otherwise you would be doing everything a disservice."

Right now, the feeling is that Tyrone's depth makes them favourites. To see it in those terms is to discount O'Rourke's ability to innovate and think on his feet.

"Tyrone, in a way, would expect to be at this stage most years," he says.

"Monaghan's a wee bit different, you can't say we expect to be there every year when we haven't been there for 30 years.

"We're there now, we're delighted to be there and we want to make the most of it," adds O'Rourke.

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