McDonnell backs O’Rourke to lead way for Orchard

LAST September, Steven McDonnell made it known he was considering his future with Armagh. He was going to draw a curtain on a storied career if the management set-up he backed was not appointed.

He made his support for Paul Grimley public and when that didn’t happen, there was speculation that he would walk away.

However, while Paddy O’Rourke’s appointment did not spark any ticker tape parades or bonfires, McDonnell was happy. Even more so when O’Rourke brought in men of the calibre of Crossmaglen legend Donal Murtagh, fitness guru Mike McGurn and former player/motivation expert Justin McNulty.

“I had a few dealings with Paddy before through business” said McDonnell at yesterday’s reception to mark his announcement as Vodafone Football Player of the Month.

“I know the type of man he is and certainly it was a big plus for me when Paddy got the job. His backroom team is full of winners, full of men who know what it takes to get to the top. If Armagh are to get back to the top it will be with those men. That made up my mind.”

Since then, the Armagh public have learned what McDonnell knew from his experiences as a recruitment boss with O’Rourke, who works in construction. He is calm, organised and wants people to perform without inhibition. That was crucial in lifting the burden of expectation on players, many of whom were not around in the halcyon days of the 2002 All-Ireland.

“What Paddy has done this year is to allow fellas to go out and express themselves. They have done that so far.

“They have gone out and played football as they would for their club team or as you would growing up. It’s just about enjoying playing football and that’s what we’re doing as a team.”

Much of that football has been played without Ronan Clarke, the man who along with McDonnell has made Armagh the bane of defenders for the guts of a decade.

The Pearse Óg man has been ruled out of a starting spot for the championship opener with Derry on Sunday week and although he might make the bench, his loss is massive.

“I’m not too sure is he going to make it or not; it doesn’t look to good at the minute. But we have guys who can step in and fill his place. We went more or less the whole League campaign without him and we had the likes of Ryan Henderson andStefan Forker coming and playing as well as they have been so it can only be good for the team.

“Myself and Ronan have built up a great partnership over the years and we know what each other is going to do with the ball when we have it. With Clarkie’s physique in the full-forward line I always seem to get the better of his flick-ons.

“He is a big loss to us and I hope he’s back in the team as soon as possible because we will only be stronger for it whenever we do get him back.

“Probably one of the biggest things about him is that he attracts so much attention and he frees up other players around him. Any player who can do that is a massive boost to any team. That’s because he’s talented, he can kick with both feet, he can win his own ball and take a score – he is a super talent. But he’s only a super talent when we have him 100%.”

Meanwhile, McDonnell is back for one thing only. As he spoke to the assembled media, someone joked that he must be running out of space after winning his latest award.

“I’ll make way for one more medal,” was the response, accompanied with a smile.

“That medal, is a Celtic Cross, which he wants as a companion to the one garnered eight years ago.

“Quite simple – the goal is to win an All-Ireland. Whether or not we’re good enough I’m not too sure, but as a team we are improving. It’s no secret – if you ask any footballer or hurler out there it is ultimately about winning an All-Ireland and I am no different.”

Elsewhere, Daniel McCartan has failed in his bid to have an eight-week suspension for “stamping on anopponent” overturned.

McCartan was sent off in the Division 2 league final after being adjudged to have stamped on Armagh’s Aaron Kernan.

The Central Hearings Committee found, that the video evidence submitted by McCartan was not “sufficiently compelling to contradict the contents of the referee’s report”.

The suspension means that McCartan, a brother of team manager James, will miss Down’s Ulster championship opener against Donegal and a potential semi-final against Tyrone or Antrim.

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