O’Rourke steps down after Monaghan lose to Armagh

O’Rourke steps down after Monaghan lose to Armagh

Monaghan 1-12 - 2-17 Armagh

Malachy O’Rourke’s seven-season stint with Monaghan is over after the Farney’s eight-point All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Armagh in Clones on Saturday evening.

O’Rourke took over what was deemed to be an aging team and delivered two Ulster titles and a place in last season’s All-Ireland semi-final. And whoever takes over now will be in charge of a team playing Division One football in 2020.

Not a bad legacy at all.

Armagh, by way of contrast, have emerged as All-Ireland qualifier royalty under Kieran McGeeney in recent seasons and they gave a regal performance in evicting their hosts from the All-Ireland series here.

Twelve of their starting outfield players scored from open play here in Clones and Monaghan had no answer to their provincial rivals who upped the stakes after a first-half which had seen the counties trade punch for punch.

The Orchard County didn't kick a single wide after the break and recorded just two prior to that. This was a clinical, professional display from a side that impressed in parts in Ulster before falling to defeat against Cavan in the last four.

Kieran McGeeney's side will be one to ignore in Monday morning's round three qualifier draw, their journeys through the back door in 2017 and 2018 both having amounted to four games.

The Ulster Championship has made a mockery of its reputation for dour games and defensive templates this summer and, though this was a game played beyond the provincial competition bounds, it started off by aping the trend for open play.

The sides had 21 points on the board by the interval alone, 15 of them coming from play which swung from end to end with a pleasing sort of symmetry that made the ten-minute delay for a late-arriving crowd well worth the wait.

Armagh had the better of the opening quarter, finding scores much easier to come by despite Monaghan's tactic of playing Fintan Kelly as a sweeper, and they were more economical with their shots on goal to boot.

Monaghan found their feet more as the half wore on, Kieran Hughes seeing plenty of the ball in midfield but kicking too much of it away wastefully, while Conor McManus gave as good as he got with marker Aidan Forker.

It was hugely entertaining stuff. A game devoid of negative tactics but with just enough bite and passion from the stands to give it an edge and ensure it didn't slip into the realm of exhibition.

The second period was a less exhilarating affair with Monaghan, who had relied much more on placed balls before the break, coming a cropper time and again against a more disciplined Armagh defence.

Equally damaging was the ability of McGeeney's side to hit them on the counter, which they did repeatedly now, and to most effect in the 45th minute when Rian O'Neill found the net after Aidan Nugent's initial shot had been saved.

Armagh had already registered three points since the break by then. Add a free from Jamie Clarke soon after the goal and it was a blitz that broke the back of a game that had been shaping up to be a decent contest.

Monaghan's first point of the second-half finally landed courtesy of Dessie Ward in the 57th minute but Armagh to responded pretty much straight away with an unmarked O'Neill claiming his second goal.

Jack McCarron's goal for Monaghan was a beauty, squeezed as it was inside the near post from distance, but it was too little too late for the Division One side whose days as a force come late summer seem to be over.

Armagh have passed them out on that road to Croker.

Scorers for Monaghan: C McManus (0-5,0-4 frees); J McCarron (1-1); R Beggan (0-2 '65's); D Ward, K Hughes, M Bannigan, C McCarthy (all 0-1).

Scorers for Armagh: R O'Neill (2-1, 0-1 free); J Clarke (0-3, 0-2 frees); J Hall and J Og Burns (both 0-2); M Shields, P Hughes, A Forker, B Donaghy, N Grimley, A Nugent, S Campbell, A Murnin and C Vernon (all 0-1).

Monaghan: R Beggan; C Boyle, K Duffy, R Wylie; K O'Connell, F Kelly, V Corey; K Hughes, N Kearns; D Ward, C McCarthy, R McAnespie; J McCarron, C McManus, M Bannigan. Subs: D Wylie for Duffy (45); S O'Hanlon for Bannigan and D Mone for McCarthy (both 52); S Carey for McAnespie (54); B McGinn for Kearns (59).

Armagh: B Hughes, A McKay, P Burns, A Forker; M Shields, B Donagh, P Hughes; J Og Burns, N Grimley; S Campbell, A Nugent, J Hall; J Clarke, R O'Neill, A Murnin. Subs: R Grugan for Murnin (41); C Vernon for Grimley (68); J Duffy for Nugent (73); J McElroy for Burns (76).

Referee: C Branagan (Down).

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