The hosts were pushing for the winner when Dermot Malone appeared to be nudged in the back but was then pulled by referee David Gough for overcarrying. Seconds later and Paddy Durcan was kicking the decisive score at the far end.
“It was very cruel and we are very disappointed,” said O’Rourke of the defeat in general. “The boys did very well to come back to draw level. The ball was put into our full-forward line and there was a clear push in the back. He didn’t give it.
“He gave a free out down the field and they got a point with the wind to win the game. It was a very cruel way to lose it. I couldn’t understand. I thought everyone else could see it apart from the referee. I don’t know, it was a strange one to me.”
He added: “Sometimes the top teams get them and the other teams don’t.”
Gough was certainly a busy man.
Monaghan finished the game with 12 men after Ryan Wylie and Barry Kerr were sent off and Malone shown a late black card on a dead pitch coated by a wet film of rain that somehow made for an intoxicating occasion.
Both sides were making do without a clutch of big-name players. Conor McManus and Kieran Hughes were absent for the hosts, Mayo clocked in without the likes of Keith Higgins, Donal Vaughan and Lee Keegan among many others.
That probably fed into the fears expressed in recent days for the league’s future well-being given the increased weighting afforded to the back end of the championship and the advent of the Super 8s but games like this suggest otherwise.
This was raw, unfiltered, competitive football.
The sides were level three times in the first-half and twice again after the interval with Monaghan erasing a three-point deficit in the last quarter to set up one of those frenetic circus finishes that Gaelic football does all too well.
Even the scoreboard stood still for a spell as if rapt by the drama.
In truth, Mayo were the better side for much of it. They lorded midfield for long spells and played some beautifully fluent football in patches with a side balancing the usual early-season mix of old hands and new faces.
Among the latter were defender Eoin O’Donoghue, Jason Gibbons in midfield and Neil Douglas up front. Cillian O’Connor spoke recently about the need for different players to step up this year. This made for a more than decent start.
“Eoin O’Donoghue in his first start had a fine, fine game,” said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. “He was a very good minor and U21 on All-Ireland winning teams and he has stepped up there.
“In midfield, Jason Gibbons had a very effective second-half and against a super performer in Darren Hughes. He gave enough of a competitive element to winning that primary possession and then Neil Douglas too.
“For a guy that missed what he would perceive to be a disappointing free at the start showed a lot of mental character to come back and shoot two crucial ‘45’s in the second-half so overall very happy with how they applied themselves.
“Lots of work to do still though.” That they came so close to losing one or even two points was down to a combination of carelessness, bad luck and inexperience. Rochford himself lamented his team’s inability to shut the game down when three up through 58 minutes.
They might have been out of sight had they been awarded a penalty five minutes in when Monaghan goalkeeper Rory Beggan flattened Andy Moran and then Evan Regan was left remonstrating when a free was waved wide six minutes later.
Add in a Diarmuid O’Connor shot blasted straight at Beggan just after the break and Mayo really would have fumed had they not secured the full haul. None of which will be much solace to Monaghan this morning.
C McCarthy (0-3, 2f); J McCarron (0-3, 2f); N Kearns, D Garland and K O’Connell (0-2).
E Regan (0-5, 4f); N Douglas (0-4, 2f and 2 ‘45’s); P Durcan (0-2); E O’Donoghue and A Moran (0-1).
R Beggan; B Kerr, C Boyle, R Wylie; F Kelly, P McGuirk, K O’Connell; D Hughes, N Kearns; O Duffy, K Duffy, R McAnespie; C McCarthy, J McCarron, D Garland.
P McKenna for O Duffy (42); D Malone for McCarron (54); D Freeman for Garland (57); D Wylie for K Duffy and C Walshe for McGuirk (both 64); D Ward for McAnespie (70).
D Clarke; E O’Donoghue, G Cafferkey, B Harrison; P Durcan, S Coen, C Boyle; A O’Shea, J Gibbons; D O’Connor, S Nally, K McLoughlin; A Moran, E Regan, N Douglas.
C O’Connor for Douglas (57); A Gallagher for D O’Connor (black card, 59); C Loftus for Moran (62); S Akram for Nally (66); G McDonagh for Boyle (72).
D Gough (Meath).