McManus hopes rub of green can yield Clones fairytale for Monaghan
GROWING up just down the road in Clontibret, events in Clones had a profound effect on Conor McManus. But like many on the Monaghan panel, he's too young to remember the Monaghan side of 1988, the last to bring home the Anglo-Celt Cup.
Instead, his head is filled with memories of the skill of Peter Canavan and Mickey Linden's cartoonish bursts of speed. He remembers too when James McCartan's boot went whizzing by his head during the 1994 final, after Tyrone's Paul Donnelly came up with a unique way of trying to slow down the Mourne man.
"Nearly every Ulster game that was in Clones when I was young, I was at it. Be it Derry-Down or Derry-Tyrone. I remember going to watch Peter Canavan and Mickey Linden, so I have fond memories.
"It looks like there'll only be one or two more years of it. It's great that Casement is getting that new stand and it's a great addition to Ulster, but it's sad that Clones will lose the big days. They're pretty special occasions with the buzz around the town."
The redevelopment in Casement Park means time is running out on Monaghan to win on home's stony grey soil. It's McManus' third Ulster final having played in 2007 and 2010 and, perhaps, his most daunting.
In Donegal, they are facing a side who are not only reigning All-Ireland champions, but are looking to become just the fourth side in history to win three Ulster crowns in a row.
Since featuring off the bench in the '07 defeat and serving his apprenticeship alongside the likes of Tommy Freeman and Paul Finlay, McManus has graduated to senior partner in the Monaghan attack.
But as Stephen O'Neill and Benny Coulter can testify to this year, Donegal have shown themselves to be very adept at shutting down a team's marquee forward.
In fact, in their two games to date, no one has managed more than a single score from play against Jim McGuinness' side. As man of the match from the game against Antrim, McManus knows he's in for a difficult afternoon.
"Any team that is preparing for a game will look to the opposition team and players and target them. But you must also look at your own game," McManus added.
McManus was again superb when Monaghan collected the Division 3 title. They had been on the slide and, after two relegations, confidence suffered. However, Malachy O'Rourke has them back on an upward curve.
"That was hard to take because when we were in Division 1, we were competing well and ran the Dubs to a point and lost a game in Armagh we should have won. So, we should have stayed up in Division 1 two years ago.
"To go from there to Division 3 was disappointing. So, this year was a case of targeting each game and ultimately getting out of Division 3. We achieved this and now have a winning mentality and confidence that has taken us to an Ulster final."
Down made life more awkward for Donegal than many expected and Monaghan could follow a similar game plan. But regardless of set-ups or systems, McManus concedes that his side will need the rub of the green to claim the title.
"Down played a fairly defensive screen. They would look at the game and think they had chances. But there are plenty of teams that have played Donegal in the last 18/24 months and thought they had chances, but still none of them beat them. On any given day, you would need a certain element of luck to get across the line, but we have been working hard in training and we'll see where it takes us."