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Wee sign of a revival

WHAT began as an irritating trickle for Louth football soon intensified to a decimating stream last season as one by one, the players who oh-so-nearly won that Leinster final back in 2010 left these shores for brighter lights.

Some cases were temporary. Others, more permanent. But at one stage in May, a beleaguered Peter Fitzpatrick reckoned that 11 of his initial panel of 30 had vanished.

A change of management has brought some back and, so far, Aidan O'Rourke is yet to feel the chill tap on the shoulder from one of his new recruits, unexpectedly embarking to foreign climbs.

If it happens, he admits, there's probably not a whole hell he can do about it other than create one great appealing reason to stay.

"These tough times dictate that that may be the case for some fellas but if there is no work here, they will have to find something further afield," he explained in conversation with the Herald.

"All I can do from my perspective is, anybody who has been asked onto the squad, that they are committed to playing with Louth and it's up to me to create an environment and a team set-up that will make it attractive to stay and play."

So far so good, then.

He has established a panel and is in the process of familiarisation but has nothing but positive stories of their and his initiation process.

The likes of Brian White, Colm Judge and John O'Brien have rematerialised and JP Rooney and Ray Finnegan are his only short-to-medium-term injury absences.

"We started working during November and it has been virtually flawless, their commitment to training and how hard they're willing to work and their dedication," he explains. "Anything I've asked of them so far, they've been happy to oblige.

"The big thing for me at the moment is trying to define a method of play and trying to find a style that works for me and works for the players.

"Part of the process is me getting to know the players, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses and what they can and can't do and how they might fit into it.

"But there is not point in trying to do something that is totally alien to the players, something that is beyond them or not playing to their strengths. It's a matter of merging my ideal to the players' strengths and find somewhere in the middle.

"There would be a basic ethos that I would have and that I would like my team to adhere to but you have to be practical as well."

Again, so far so good. They topped their group in the O'Byrne Cup by virtue of hammering Longford last Sunday, although O'Rourke puts that particular achievement down to the relative strengths of the respective line-ups last Sunday.

As a consequence though, the Dubs are coming to Drogheda next weekend but he's not getting too excited about that just yet either.

"To be honest, whether we got out of the group or we didn't, we would have been playing a game next Sunday," he insists.

"In terms of League preparation, it's important to have a game next Sunday and a competitive game. The fact that it is against a team like Dublin is just a bonus.

"But it doesn't alter at all what we do this Sunday. Whether it was a friendly or a competitive game, there are things we need to look at and work on and we'll just continue that process on Sunday."

O'Rourke follows a well-worn path into the sacred bib. He is the third member of Armagh's 2002 All-Ireland-winning team to enter the hectic world of inter-county management and who's to say he'll be the last?

He served with one - Kieran McGeeney - for a season in Kildare and with Justin McNulty over Laois and Tony McEntee earning a strong reputation in charge of Crossmaglen Rangers, it's likely that at least one will someday oversee the Orchard County's fortunes. For the moment, though O'Rourke is merely adjusting to life as a number one.

"Probably time is the biggest issue," he outlines. "It's full-on. Players need feedback and they need direction and that's probably a daily process. At the minute, there are over 40 players jockeying for National League positions.

"To be fair, if you want to do the job properly, that's the attention that they all have to get. But I have a very diligent backroom team and they put in the work out.

"The flipside is that you have more control and you're able to implement your own ideas," he concluded.