O’Rourke focused on Armagh challenge

DOWN legend Paddy O’Rourke has stressed he will have no divided loyalties in his new role as Armagh manager.

O’Rourke, who captained the Mourne County to All-Ireland glory in 1991, was last month handed the reigns of the Orchard County following the controversial exit of Peter McDonnell.

O’Rourke saw off the likes of former All Ireland winning manager Peter McGrath and ex-Louth boss Eamon McEnaney to take charge of one of his native county’s greatest rivals.

“I would not have been totally surprised if someone told me three months ago that I would be back in management,” O’Rourke said yesterday. “However, if someone told me that it would be as manager of Armagh, I would have been surprised. But I had an interest into getting back into senior inter-county management, There were a few balls in the air and I had my eye on them and this is the one that was most attractive to me.

He continued: “The reaction has been very good. It is has been what I thought it would have been. I think any genuine GAA person will understand that someone like me has a love for the game and likes working at the highest level and would be attracted to another county.

“The fact that it is Armagh and that there is a lot of rivalry between Down and Armagh makes it different but genuine GAA people understand that and have wished me well.

“They still want to beat Armagh and that’s the way it should be.

“I have crossed over the fence and I will be doing my utmost to make sure that Armagh win all their games.”

O’Rourke has been busy since taking the post. Assisted by trainer Mike McGurn, along with Justin McNulty and Donal Murtagh, he conducted a series of trials, looking at over 70 players during October. However that hard work has been parked due to the ban on collective training throughout November and December.

“It probably made us rush the process of having trials and things tidied up but I really don’t see the need for having the panel of players together in November,” he said of the ban. “I do see more of a need coming up to Christmas because you are coming into the playing season after Christmas and it is very difficult to prepare a team if you can’t bring them together.

“It would help competitions like the McKenna Cup if panels could come together because fellows would be a bit more used to the ball and their handling skills would be better. Basically what they are doing in November and December is training in the gyms and that is great for getting a good level of physical condition but it does nothing for your ball skills. If you were able to do a few sessions on the pitch for the last couple of weeks in December that would be a help.”

But it wasn’t just the football talent at the trials which impressed the new man. The attitude made him certain he was right to take the job.

“There was a great response from within the county and there were a lot of people very, very keen to wear the Armagh jersey as I thought would be the case. Armagh is a very passionate county, a great football county and there were a lot of disappointed lads who came through the trials that did not make it. But we will continue to watch them and monitor them. I am sure that along the way I will decide that I left some young fellow out that I should not have. The door will always be open and that’s way the panel will be operated.”

One player glad to hear that is Kieran McGeever, who sustained a serious leg injury in Ulster’s Interpro victory over Munster. O’Rourke hopes he will be back come championship time.

“He has picked up a very bad ankle injury and sometimes with injuries like that it might be better if it was a break. It is a very bad ligament injury. It has been scanned and it has been looked at by the medics.

“They won’t know if he needs an operation for another couple of weeks until all the swelling settles down but it is going to be a long-term issue. It is not something that is going to clear up in a short period of time.

“Knowing Kieran, he will leave no stone unturned and he will not be back a day later than is physically possible.

“If he is to get an injury this year, I would prefer him to get it now than at the end of the national league.

“If we can get him right for the end of the league or sometime during the league I will be happy enough.”

Expectations are always high in a county like Armagh. But they are lifted by a few notches after the success of their minors in the All-Ireland final in September.

However, O’Rourke preaches caution. He explained: “I have been in inter-county management before and one of the things you learn is that you can’t rush young players. Obviously you want your best players in the senior panel but you can’t rush them. It does them no good. A lot of young fellows can’t handle being rushed into senior football and you are better to give them that extra year. I have agreed with Brian McAlinden that all U21 players will stay with him and that we will look at them coming through the U21 championship. We have not put the U21 players through trials but I am sure that when that championship is over we will add a couple of those players to our senior panel.”

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