He’s married to a Bellurgan Point girl, his grandfather came from Dundalk’s Doyles Fort Road, and had he been born a few hundred yards down the road, he’d have played for Roche Emmets and, no doubt, the Louth team. This is Aidan O’Rourke (right), the Dromintee man chosen to succeed Peter Fitzpatrick as county team manager
At 36, he’s the youngest to fill the post, and it’s his first such venture. But don’t for one moment think we’ve got a greenhorn here. His skills as a line man are excellent. They’ve been honed at club, senior college and county team levels, and when you consider what’s he achieved as a player in the Armagh colours, you sense that here’s a man who could do a job.
What is it about South Armagh that it has given Gaelic football so many top-class managers, not to mention the finest club team of all time? Joe Kernan was at the helm when Crossmaglen Rangers began their conquest of Ulster and then the country. Showing there was plenty more from where that came, the big man then led his county to an historic All-Ireland win.
Aidan O’Rourke, Kieran McGeeney and Justin McNulty were players on the 2002 outfit; now they are in charge of county teams themselves. McGeeney’s been with Kildare for five years, and for two of those had O’Rourke as one of his sidekicks. McNulty is guiding Laois’s fortunes, and while he was first to congratulate O’Rourke on his appointment, there’ll be no love lost when the two come face to face in the opening round of next year’s Leinster Championship and before that, in Division Two of the National League, in which Armagh are also engaged.
Peter McDonnell, another South Armagh man not unknown in this county, succeeded Kernan, and is set to renew acquaintances with the Orchard County as a selector in Paul Grimley’s set-up. His name was mentioned as a likely successor to Fitzpatrick, as was Silverbridge’s Fergal Reel, who has just completed a Louth Senior Championship double with St Patrick’s.
O’Rourke, whose exploits at county level won him All-Star recognition, also spent two years as a member of James McCartan’s Down management team. He’s now GAA Development Manager at Queen’s University; as a player in Third Level football he won a Sigerson Cup with a UUJ team, captained by none other than Jim McGuinness.
What can supporters look out for in his tenure, which is to run for a minimum of two years? Direct football, with as much use of the boot as possible. But that won’t necessarily mean constant pumping of high balls into the full-forward line. The other side’s style of defending will have to be taken into consideration.
His team, he told a gathering at Darver last Thursday evening, won’t be going on to the field with the instructions he once heard being issued to a club team. Send the ball in high to Joe (the full-forward), they were told, “and if that doesn’t work, send it in even higher the next time”.
And what can the players expect? Honesty, integrity, commitment - the kind of qualities, really, which the man himself displayed, Co Board chairman Paraic O’Connor said, when he was being interviewed for the job. Oh, and another thing, he’s a strict disciplinarian.
The identity of O’Rourke’s back-room team wasn’t made known until last night, too late for its inclusion in this paper. But if it’s the one bandied about at Haggardstown on Sunday, we can only believe Louth teams under O’Rourke’s watch won’t lack for preparation or guidance. We’ll go further and say if there were players who were reluctant to get involved in the past, it will now probably be necessary to form an orderly queue.