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O'Rourke's foresight to swing it for Farney

By Peter Canavan

An intriguing factor in tomorrow's Donegal-Monaghan Ulster final is how two Fermanagh men are ultimately going to decide where the Anglo Celt Cup resides over the winter.

You cannot play down the role that Malachy O'Rourke and Rory Gallagher will have in deciding the outcome of the showpiece.

The two same teams reaching the final for three consecutive years has a great novelty factor. Back in 1967, '68 and '69, Cavan and Down contested three, but there was nothing like that all the way back to 1908 to 1911 when Antrim beat Cavan in four consecutive finals.

This 'series' is tied at one each and there is a real sense of bad blood between the sides. I, for one, am relishing it.

I can't speak for Gallagher, having never been involved with him, but I admire how he has handled this Donegal team since taking over from Jim McGuinness. The new era in the county could have crumbled, but it hasn't as he managed to keep a lot of veterans on board.

His foresight has also been rewarded by the late return of Leo McLoone, who should see action tomorrow.

O'Rourke is much more familiar to me. I played alongside Malachy for St Mary's and Errigal Ciaran when he transferred from his club Derrylin O'Connell's in Fermanagh, having married and settled in Ballygawley.

I will never forget when, on the eve of my first Sigerson Cup match with St Mary's College, Malachy and another senior player took me aside and revealed that they met my direct opponent during a night out, and that he had a few choice comments to make about me.

Not that I thought I needed fired up, but this gave me another reason to win the game.

Win it we did, with me playing my part and I let my marker know about it at the final whistle. His confused look should have told me something, but a week later, O'Rourke admitted he had manufactured the story. You could say Malachy has been at his mindgames for a while.

As a team-mate, Malachy was hard-working, honest and would put in a shift when required. He had good feet, too, and could finish.

But while he took frees for his county, there was a queue of men in front of him at Errigal; at one stage Eamonn McCaffrey, Eoin Gormley and myself. Malachy was lucky to get hitting a sideline ball!

He expertly managed us to the Tyrone county Championship in 2006, along with his right-hand man, Leo 'Dropsy' McBride, when we beat Carrickmore after a replay.

Malachy had a serious eye for detail and had already earned his stripes by managing the Loup to the 2003 Ulster club title. His team meetings were always interesting, everything covered down to a picture of the pitch we were playing on, the referee, and his famed weather reports left nobody with poor excuses for the wrong kind of footwear or not bringing gloves.

Some managers get carried away with emotion when it comes to Championship football, feeling that shouting and roaring is the best form of communication. That was never Malachy's style. Everything is measured and I never see him flustered or losing control.

Malachy has always given immense credit to McBride in all their success to date. Like Malachy, 'Dropsy' played for Errigal and fancied himself as a corner-forward, but he earned his nickname after a short stint as goalkeeper which didn't turn out well.

He is not as reserved as Malachy, but he brought great intensity to his coaching sessions. His enthusiasm was infectious and the players had great respect for him.

I said at the start of the year that I expect Monaghan to become Ulster champions, with their route to the final offering an opportunity to get there without having to show everything they had.

On the other hand, Donegal were going to have to play very well to make it through and they did so against Armagh and Tyrone. Against Derry there were signs of fatigue, mental tiredness or maybe a combination of both. Perhaps motivation was an issue. It won't be in the final.

I expect Monaghan to get their match-ups right. Vinny Corey has already shown what he can do on Michael Murphy. Paddy McBrearty, Colm McFadden and Ryan McHugh are the most important men to watch after that. Colin Walshe should have recovered from injury and is a big-game player. He should go on McBrearty, as he did in the 2013 final.

Then we consider Drew Wylie - Malachy is playing it very canny with his fitness and it's noticeable how Gallagher has said he fully expects him to play this final. If he is fit to start, then he takes up his role on McFadden, having tortured him in 2013. If he doesn't, then Fintan Kelly has the physique for the job.

Karl O'Connell has the pace to track Ryan McHugh. Monaghan have the men to shut down Donegal's main attacking threats.

So much is going to depend on scoring from distance. In this regard, Monaghan have an edge over Donegal. Monaghan are well aware of the need to be disciplined and not to concede frees for Murphy, given how he hurt Tyrone and Armagh.

The Farney will have enough bodies back within their own '45', forcing the likes of Frank McGlynn, Neil Gallagher and Ryan McHugh to attempt shots from distance.

On the other hand, Dessie Mone can kick the ball over from a far way out and Darren Hughes, Paul Finlay, Kieran Hughes, Dick Clerkin and Neil McAdam have also been known to do it.

Another factor is the bench. Monaghan's replacements have produced nine points in the Championship from two games. Donegal's subs have yet to score from three.

Monaghan targeted this game long ago. Proof of that is to look at their team against Fermanagh; they didn't need to start with Eoin Lennon and they had other options there.

Lennon looked off the pace against Fermanagh, but Malachy played him with one eye on Gallagher, to quell his domination in midfield.

While Monaghan can win Ulster, I am not convinced they see themselves as All-Ireland contenders.

They don't put themselves on a par with the top three of Dublin, Kerry and Mayo. Having seen them play this past couple of years they have failed to get up to that standard. They are still outside the top three.

To join that group, they have to improve the attacking aspect of their game.

Perhaps that will come, but they should have enough this weekend in any event. It will be hard-fought, close and low-scoring, but Monaghan to come out on top.

Belfast Telegraph


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