Farney star rising but McManus warns against 'looking ahead'
Published 06/08/2015 | 02:30
Conor McManus is the blue chip player on a team that were perhaps once considered blue collar.
Over the years Monaghan developed a sterling reputation. They were sure to offer a stern examination built on laudable values and applications. But when the conversation moved to winning Sam Maguire, they rarely featured.
They have been changing that perception. Two Ulster titles in three years brings them to an All-Ireland quarter-final that they are tipped to win.
Supporters are thinking bigger too. After beating Donegal in Clones last time out, a section of followers broke into a chorus of 'We want Sam'. Monaghan have never gotten over that particular line but that's where their horizons lie now.
And the change in thinking was reflected in the days after their Ulster final win. In 2013, they secured their first Ulster title in 25 years and the team toured the county with the Anglo Celt Cup. This time around, it was parked the following day.
"Being what it was, waiting 25 years, you can understand why there was a will and a want to go around the towns," McManus explains. "This time around it is done now. We re-focus and look forward from here."
Now it's on to Croke Park and Tyrone. McManus was a central figure as the Red Hand edged the 2013 meeting between the sides when Seán Cavanagh hauled him to the ground to deny him a goal-scoring chance.
Their last Championship visit to Croke Park brought a mauling at the hands of Dublin but McManus insists it's a place they enjoy.
"We have been there a fair bit over the last number of years with a Division 3 and 2 final and we won both of them," he offers. "We lost a quarter-final there in 2013 in a game we should have won I don't think Croke Park had anything to do with it.
"Last year it's well documented we didn't go so well. We beat Kildare and then played Dublin six days later we didn't perform that day. Things got away from us but I don't think it has anything to do with Croke Park."
All the while McManus has developed into their marquee performer. In any conversation about the top inside forwards, the Clontibret man is in the mix. However, early in his career his future looked to be as a wing-back. He can recall an Ulster club match with Crossmaglen when Oisín McConville was his direct opponent. The next hour left him with memories of "a dogged enough day".
That was around the same time Seamus McEnaney called him up the Monaghan team. Things had just started to turn for the county then and that legacy remains.
"Under Seamus and Martin McElkennon, Monaghan's approach to things changed.
"As I said, we started competing at the top level but ultimately we didn't get over the line in those years. It set Monaghan football up for where we are now."
They came close to breaking into football's elite on a few occasions. McManus didn't see action in the 2007 game when they almost toppled Kerry.
Now they are favourites to beat Tyrone and move into the last four. Should Monaghan be considered genuine All-Ireland contenders?
"That's not for us to say, and again that's not for us to start making comments on," McManus says.
"The media and that will form their own opinions but we are not looking at it like that.
"We can only take it one step at a time, we are not looking at All-Irelands or semi-finals, we are looking at an All-Ireland quarter-final. It is the same as we have approached it all year. The day you start looking ahead is the day you are caught."