By Niall Gartland
HE was always one of the most celebrated and respected, and indeed most-liked, managers in the game but Malachy O’Rourke’s stock has risen even further since assuming the reins at the Watty Graham’s in 2020.
A quick trawl through his Wikipedia page shows that his days as a successful manager long pre-date his seven-year stint at Monaghan – Tyholland, the Loup, Errigal Ciaran and his native Fermanagh – wherever he goes, success invariably follows.
His tenure at Glen has arguably been the most impressive of the lot. A first-ever senior championship is in the bag. So is a first Ulster crown (at adult level, of course – these Glen fellas made Ulster Minor Tournament at St Paul’s their own for a four-year spell between 2011 and 2014). And now, a first ever All-Ireland final appearance for the club.
It’s also Malachy’s first ever time donning the Bainisteoir Bib on All-Ireland final day. He’s the man with the midas touch but he explains that the management team at Glen is very much a collective effort. His trusty side-kick Ryan Porter is in tow, while there are others who get a name-check as well.
“To be honest with you Ryan does all the work on the field, but I’d always have an active role in the sense I’m never sitting at the side chatting to somebody or on my phone.
“I’m always involved in the coaching, giving feedback and chatting to players, me and Ryan travel the hour’s journey up and down together every night, talking about what we need to do and he’s the one who implements that.
“Ryan is top-class and the boys love him as well, we’ve a great relationship and think the same way about football which is obviously important as well. Johnny Bradley is excellent at the performance analysis and Mickey McCullagh has a super knowledge of football, and there’s an awful lot of other boys in the background helping out as well.”
O’Rourke previously enjoyed a seven-year stint with the Monaghan senior inter-county team, leading them to Ulster titles in 2013 and 2015 as well as an All-Ireland semi-final appearance in 2018. The demands placed on inter-county players have gone through the roof over the course of the last decade or more, but O’Rourke says club players aren’t dossing around either.
Asked to draw a comparison between the club and county game when it comes to demands on players and management alike, he said:
“When you consider the top club teams in particular, the level of preparation is probably the equivalent of county teams about 10 or 12 years ago.
“Speaking for the lads in the club, the way they look after themselves and the work they do away from the field would be equivalent to county level. It’s been a very long season, we started in mid-March and we’re still going even though we started training almost as late as we could.
“The league isn’t as pressurised but once you take into account championship it’s a really long season so time-wise it’s probably longer than county level.
“Regarding myself I’ve retired from teaching in June so I’ve more time on my hands now. It has allowed me that time to get stuck into things and go through things forensically which is great.”
While it is his first appearance on All-Ireland final day as manager, he won’t go around crowing about it. He says his job is to facilitate the players in being the best they can be, and hopefully the rest takes care of itself.
“To be honest I don’t look at it as a personal matter at all. When you get involved in a new team you try to forge a togetherness. That’s the joy and the challenge of it, seeing things develop and people coming together and reaching their potential.
“I don’t think my life is going to change that much whether we win or lose – I think I’ll be doing the same thing next weekend.”
As for preparing his team for the big day this Sunday, he says that they’re keeping their heads firmly screwed on.
“Coming up to games like this, it’s a matter of keeping things fairly routine. I think the biggest danger is almost in doing things you haven’t done before. It’s a simplistic thing to say but it’s a game of football. Obviously there’s more at stake but you have to keep a sense of perspective and know that you have to perform. Sentiment doesn’t come into it, these games are brilliant occasions but if you don’t go down and perform you won’t win.”
While conscious that Croke Park is almost a home away from home for Kilmacud Crokes at this stage, he’s thankful that Glen did get the opportunity to play at GAA Headquarters in their All-Ireland semi-final win over Maigh Cuilinn.
“It was a big thing for us to play the semi-final in Croke Park. I heard someone say Kilmacud Crokes have played seven of their last 10 games in Croke Park.
“It’s like Dublin at inter-county level, there’s no doubt it does help, it’s a different ground to everywhere else so it probably does give them an advantage. But the fact we played there the last day and the boys got a feel for the place will hopefully stand to us as well.”