TONY MCENTEE: A masterclass from Malachy O’Rourke

Leaders are neither born nor made; they are found. This is what Ben Horowitz postulated in a recent article.

He suggests if leaders were made, then why is it so hard to teach true leadership? It takes a bit of head-scratching to get round that concept but he may be onto something.

His point in essence is that you must go through adversity in some aspect of your life: sport, social, family, work etc. and emerge having found qualities which force you to become a leader. This should give hope to us all that anyone can become a leader.

You don’t need to look far within this Monaghan team to find people who lead.

Take Dessie Mone, who was once a volatile defender and former boxing enthusiast, as likely to be sent off as score in his early days. He was re-branded in 2012 and is now a consistent, reliable and superb defender who will surely someday get the All Star he richly deserves. Or what of Vinny Corey, the versatile footballer whom Michael Murphy must see as his greatest adversary?

Conor McManus is no slouch in the leadership department either. McManus is easily the best forward in Ulster, who despite attention from defenders still gets most Monaghan’s scores.

However this morning I give the credit to Malachy O’Rourke, manager and ultimate leader of the 2015 Ulster Senior Football champions.

The detail in his tactics and his ability to get his players to adhere to them for large portions of the game was outstanding. This was the best managerial performance at any level in years and, in my opinion, eclipses Jim McGuinness’s destruction of Dublin in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-finals. Three things in particular were perfectly executed.

The first was the defensive structure.

Specific players were assigned strict man-marking duties: Colin Walshe on Patrick McBrearty, Ryan Wylie on Colm McFadden, and Vinny Corey on Michael Murphy. Additional players swept across the defence and set up attacking platforms. Irrespective of what was going on around these match-ups the Monaghan defenders remained focused on their opponent. The result was no score and (at least) four wides for McFadden, no score from play from Murphy and a point from play in the first and last couple of minutes of the game from McBrearty, with at least four wides registered.

Defensively the Monaghan players tracked the Donegal ball-carrying runners and the overlapping runners. Donegal were unable to find gaps and, particularly in the first half, appeared to run out of ideas while Monaghan remained forceful in the tackle.

This was a phenomenal first-half defensive performance when you consider how easily Donegal ripped Armagh apart, and those who manage teams will understand how hard that must have been to coach players.

The second was the use of possession while attacking.

Despite calls from fans to “move the ball forward” the Monaghan team were very adept at switching the play from one side of the field to the other and purposely did so by foot passing, a skill Monaghan are not renowned for. Kick passing ensured a quick transition from right to left wings and ensured that the Monaghan team conserved energy while the Donegal defence had to move quickly to regroup and set up position. This tired out the Donegal players and forced gaps to appear. The attacking runners and overlapping players were then able to get into scoring positions and capitalise on what appeared to be defensive frailties from Donegal. Take Mark McHugh as an example. His role initially was to push up on opposition kick-outs and once taken, to retreat right back in front of the full back to sweep in front of the full forward. Moving the ball across the field meant McHugh was constantly forced to rethink his position and move a considerable distance to prevent direct passing down each wing. It was understandable then that from the middle of the first half, he no longer pushed up for kick-outs as he tried to conserve energy.

The third masterstroke from O’Rourke was the use of Conor McManus and the rotation of a full-forward.

On this occasion, McManus played a deeper role and dragged his close-marking opponent, Neil McGee, out the field. It has often been said that to be beat Donegal, you need to take McGee off the square. McManus had a superb battle with McGee, scoring six points (three frees) and his movement created disarray in the Donegal defence.

Monaghan, generally tried to maintain a full forward in concept but this player (literally anyone) was generally only a distraction as the predominant tactic was to transition the ball and shake up the Donegal defensive structure so runners would penetrate and shoot. No more were McManus and Kieran Hughes’s significant skills inadvertently wasted as target men without a steady supply of ball and space to operate in. It also meant the important role Mark McHugh had in intercepting ball was now defunct and his value limited. What will O’Rourke plot next?

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