Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 10 December 2017

Faithful McManus man for all seasons

Offaly's Ciaran McManus has never allowed travel to be a barrier to his career.
Offaly's Ciaran McManus has never allowed travel to be a barrier to his career.
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Tom Cribbin never got around to it, but reveals it was on his mind. Finding the right words to suggest to arguably Offaly's most productive player of the last decade and a half that it might be a good time to call it a day is not an easy thing to do.

So Cribbin opted to keep his inner most thoughts under lock and key and press on without attempting to trigger such radical change. When he looks back on it now, he admits he doesn't know what he was thinking.

"I don't know what I'd do without him," said Cribbin. "He's been a revelation this season. I'm delighted he has hung in there."

Ciaran McManus would probably be the first to acknowledge that Cribbin had a point after the season he had.

He has never allowed travel to be a barrier to his career, whether it's within Ireland or from some far-flung continental destination where his work as a senior engineer with ESB Energy International has taken him. Whatever has to be done is done. No complaints.

But last year the first chinks in the armour appeared. Based in Southampton, where he was heading up a significant project, the commute to and the absence from the training field began to take their toll.

He had already been thrown out of kilter somewhat in the early part of the season with a placement at full-back that had square peg and round hole written all over it. That was in the unfortunate days of Richie Connor's brief reign.


By May and the first round of the Leinster Championship against Kildare, the Tubber man found himself in unprecedented territory. For the first time in a championship career that spanned back to 1996 he found himself surplus to initial requirements -- on the outside looking in.

Dermot Earley's dominance for Kildare soon had Offaly redrawing their plans and by the end of the first quarter McManus was pressed into action. But retirement for a 33-year-old, with a wedding at the end of the year, had to be a consideration.

Nothing defines McManus' Offaly career more, however, than his sheer willingness to persevere.

There is scarcely another inter-county footballer or hurler, who has served under more managers, the legacy of Offaly's deplorable shifting of the deck-chairs so often during the last decade.

After a period of stability through the tenures of Tommy Lyons and Padraig Nolan, Offaly took off on a campaign of changing management with Abramovich-like fervour.

Paul O'Kelly and Gerry Fahy lasted just a season each, Kevin Kilmurray had two years that incorporated a Leinster final appearance, but still found the sands shifting from beneath him. Pat Roe would rather forget his two years in Offaly, as everyone else would too, and Connor's timing just could not have been worse. For a few weeks his former team-mate Tom Coffey offered his services, before Cribbin's arrival.

With Eugene Mulligan's 1996 team included, Cribbin is now the 10th Offaly manager McManus has taken instruction from. This year Cribbin has really come to appreciate what he can give.

"He's based back in Ireland (a new safety management role with ESB Energy International) now and he's really a different player," said Cribbin.

"Having himself and Scott Brady around for training has made such a difference. The encouragement he has given in a difficult period has been immense."

The common denominator throughout McManus' time has been his levels of personal fitness.

When Colm O'Rourke had charge of the International Rules team for the revival of the series with the Australians in 1998 and 1999 McManus emerged as one of the leading lights.

O'Rourke didn't know then and doesn't know now if he has come across a better athlete in Gaelic football.

Cribbin reports now that the engine is suitably conditioned. "No doubt about it he remains one of our fittest players, even at 34," he says. "It's a tribute to him. He's in front for everything, regardless of the distance."

Offaly have altered deploying him as a midfielder or half-forward. Cribbin's hunch is to just let him go. "You can't confine him to a specific role. You just have to give him freedom."

In championship terms, McManus is relatively lightly raced with 41 appearances.

Darragh O Se has played in just two more championships, but has played in twice as many games, which provides an indication of Offaly's paucity for much of his career.

The 104 league appearances he has made is a better reflection of how he has put his shoulder to the wheel.

For Paul O'Kelly, his manager in 2003 and a selector during Lyons' three-year reign the measure of McManus is the mileage has clocked up just to remain an Offaly player.

"In 2003, when he stood up to that '45' he converted to earn Offaly a draw against Laois, he had been based in Germany practising his free-taking without the use of posts," recalled O'Kelly.

"Later that year he arrived home from Finland on the morning of a qualifier game against Roscommon. Finland is two hours behind so effectively it was 9.0 for him when the match started. His commitment to Offaly knows no bounds.

"From my point of view I would certainly appreciate what he gave me in my year as manager in '03, not just in terms of what he did on the field, but off it as well.

"We had something like 12 U-21s, but Ciaran gave wonderful leadership to them."

His propensity for scoring great goals is a matter of debate among Offalians where opinion can be divided.


As much as the brilliance of his effort against Laois in 2003 is remembered, so, too, is the 2001 Leinster semi-final when they had Dublin on the ropes and he, more than anyone, spurned opportunities to put them away, before Vinny Murphy came on to apply the coup de grace. The consensus was that he had tried the impossible from too far out.

You won't hear O'Kelly complaining, though. "You'd hear criticism of Ciaran in Offaly, but my reply is that if we had two or three of him we'd be in a much better position than we are now."

O'Kelly, a victim of the managerial coups that have stalked much of the last decade for Offaly, believes the instability of those years may have robbed McManus of a much more fruitful career.

"Even after Tommy Lyons departed Offaly reached three consecutive Leinster finals, but it was chaos after that," he said.

McManus stood firm behind Gerry Fahy in 2004 when he secured only a lightweight endorsement to continue from the Offaly County Board after just a year in charge. And the decision by the players to down tools and expose a number of related issues had his considerable backing.

Ciaran McManus enters a new decade hoping against hope that he'll be able to reflect better on this one than the last.

But one thing is certain. He'll leave with a clear conscience, sure that he had given everything that he could.

Irish Independent

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