O’Rourke quits as Armagh are shocked in qualifiers

TWO stories dominate the GAA headlines in a week which has seen Armagh dumped out of the All-Ireland qualifiers by lowly Roscommon and the news that team boss Paddy O’Rourke has called it a day.

Last Sunday, two All Ireland winning captains felt the cutting edge of senior county management.

At Croke Park Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare side, who looked like a well conditioned rugby league team, had no answer to the skill and determination of the Royals from Meath and, in Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon, Paddy O’Rourke took a bow from senior county management having watched his adopted county blow a half-time lead and bid farewell to the 2012 season.

Those who believed that Armagh were only capable of one big championship performance per season are now vindicated.

During this season’s league campaign, the county produced a horrible first half showing against Cork at the Athletic Grounds before rallying against a 14 man Leesiders to snatch a draw. The first 35 minutes of that particular game were dismal but events in the second half at Hyde Park on Sunday seem to place the county on a modern day low.

Somewhat tentatively, the fans were attempting to be upbeat following the fighting display against Tyrone in the provincial opener and before the game the bookies were offering ‘any money’ for the chances of an upset.

But without both Brian Mallon and Aaron Kernan, the Ulstermen looked particularly vulnerable and as it transpired much too dependent on the skills of Jamie Clarke.

Already the rumours are sweeping the county surrounding players’ discontent and regarding an alleged power struggle within the county’s management set up leading up to last Sunday’s defeat.

Considering that assistant boss Paul Grimley faced the press after the Roscommon defeat, it would appear that the Pearse Óg man has donned the mantle of caretaker manager in the interim period which will be all of seven months before new backroom staff and coaches are required.

The county board, for their part, will be in no rush to name a management team any time soon considering previous upheavals in the process and the board will be keen to put all the proper procedures in place which, if protracted, may cause its own set of difficulties.

Without prevarication, the sensible option would be to immediately give the job to Paul Grimley and encourage the Pearse Óg man to select his own back up team, but these matters are far from simple.

A balance may be needed to give representation to all parts of the county within the management structure. But will Grimley be handed the job? Or will Kieran McGeeney be lured from the midlands to eventually take up the orchard post?

McGeeney’s style of management would come with a lot of outlay and a back up team which would cover all the avenues. If Armagh are serious about building a strong side to challenge for honours, they might look at encouraging Brian McAlinden back into the fold.

The Sarsfields clubman brought the county from obscurity to their first Ulster title for 28 years back in 1999 and was unlucky on the All Ireland stage. It is believed that McAlinden is held in high regard by Paul Grimley and having two dedicated Armagh men at the helm would certainly be an accommodating factor for the fans.

The ‘Trasna man, who managed the county’s under 21s in 2011 has recently, along with Paul McGrane and St Paul’s clubman Liam McCorry, been overseeing an Armagh development squad which was aimed at conditioning players for senior county football.

Debates are also raging in the county surrounding the personnel currently lining out for the county. Should Crossmaglen have more representation? Have players turned down the opportunity to play for their county? Or has a one off All-Ireland success back in 2002 set in place a self destruct mechanism in a county previously starved of success and, in retrospect, somewhat content to follow an elusive dream? In real terms, has winning an All-Ireland caused its own set of problems and altered egos?

There has been a strange if almost bizarre fascination about Armagh in some sections of the media since the county set new standards back in 2002. Few counties have had more newspaper inches devoted to them over the past decade but modernly with all the hype waning along with the success, the future looks a lot less ‘orange’.

It would be all too easy to lay all the blame at the feet of Paddy O’Rourke considering that what may be described as ‘tribalism’ within the county is particularly divisive and the days of “them and us” are certainly not over.

It will take a strong character to unite all three sections of the Armagh football fraternity and O’Rourke, in fairness, had inherited a side on the wane without one of its best forwards in Ronan Clarke, and the former Down player was in competition with a very professionally run club side still intent on winning All-Ireland titles.

Apart from all the bluster surrounding another early exit from the All Ireland qualifiers, real success in Armagh will only be achieved when supporters can feel that they are not taken for granted.

A great Armagh manager in the future will say, in a county ground in Munster or Connacht: “Before I talk about the team’s performance I would like to thank all our supporters who made the trip to support their team here today.”

In sixteen years compiling this column, this writer has never heard such words. In an era when when winning Sam is not a real prospect, a manager who can win the fans is half way to success. This scenario may have to be a future accommodation.