Veteran McManus still flying the Faithful flag
THERE are no obligations left for Ciaran McManus, nothing that says he has to be at Newcastle West to face Limerick tomorrow.
At 35, the Tubber man has done his time. He has committed himself to his sport and his county for 15 seasons, but is showing no signs of stopping.
No one could accuse McManus of being a fickle sort. Offaly have been mired in the lower regions for some time now, but every season he laces up the boots and steps up for more. And it's not as if it was ever thus. He burst on to the scene on the back of UCD's 1996 Sigerson Cup and won Leinster with Offaly the following year. The Tommy Lyons revolution saw the Faithful restored to their former status of heavyweights.
After Roy Malone and Vinny Claffey combined for the three-goal dismissal of Meath, the Nutron diets and the new hope, Offaly claimed a Division 1 title and the world looked in order for a young man with a big future.
But those days are now firmly in the past and a period of commuting from abroad for disappointing defeats and a slide through the ranks sees McManus toiling in Division 3.
It's on days like last Sunday when his side were well-beaten by Wexford at home that some would question his sanity. Younger men than he have walked away and accepted life after football, but he keeps going.
Watching Down get to an All- Ireland final, having been pushed so hard by Offaly in the qualifiers, has left something to build on and he's as hungry as ever to succeed.
"The Down defeat was last year," he said. "That's only something you can use just now and again in your head to prove to yourself that you're capable of those perform-ances. We started off great against Cavan and again, we let it slip last weekend.
"I was lucky enough to be there in the good times. A lot of the lads weren't there. I have nearly every title and an All-Ireland is elusive, but I've got a senior league and a Leinster, Sigerson and Railway Cups, all those sort of things. All those memories keep you going. Offaly can get back there and that's what you want.
"I'm certainly lucky that I didn't pick up any cruciate injuries or any breaks or anything like that. I suppose I just don't switch off. I don't switch off over the winter.
"I've given enough to Offaly football, but it's a personal ambition to do what's best for Offaly really. I've got a huge amount out of Gaelic, a massive amount, whether it be colleges, club, county, international. It's given me a great 15-17 years at the top level of sport and I could walk away, but if you feel you can contribute well, then I don't think I should."
Offaly have not won away from Tullamore in three years in the league and it's a record the veteran midfielder wants to put right against Limerick.
There is a crop of young players emerging that McManus believes in. They have been involved with their colleges in recent weeks, while the U-21s have been in and out as they prepare for next week's Leinster semi-final against Laois.
Consistency is lacking, but the veteran wants that to change. "There are opportunities there for Offaly," he says.
As long as he believes that, it looks like he'll drive on.