Monaghan 'driven' for more glory – McManus
Farney talisman out to lay marker for Ulster championship against old foes
Tomorrow's Division 2 final is being billed as the hors d'oeuvres of an Ulster Football Championship that already looks very tasty indeed.
Four teams from the province are chasing league titles over the next 48 hours but the Division 2 decider between Donegal and Monaghan really has people salivating.
When they met in the Ulster final last summer Donegal were chasing a three-in-a-row but Malachy O'Rourke's rejuvenated side stopped them to win their first title in 25 years.
This year's provincial draw means they can only meet if both sides make the Ulster final again. That is just one of the reasons why Monaghan's All Star forward Conor McManus believes tomorrow's encounter will be fairly full-blooded and no phoney war.
"If you're coming to headquarters on league final Sunday then you don't want to be coming with the attitude that it doesn't matter if you lose, of course you want to win," he says.
"Both teams will be looking for a performance first and foremost, but if there's a cup to be given out, you want to be going up the steps afterwards."
That's just what Monaghan did a year ago when they beat Meath in the Division 3 final, a title that gave them both confidence and momentum which they've managed to maintain.
"We had suffered two relegations in a row in the previous years so to get two promotions on the bounce stands us in good stead and we're heading into the championship in good shape," McManus says.
He gives great credit to the influence of former Fermanagh boss O'Rourke and his backroom team of Ryan Porter and Leo McBride, who arrived to meet some very bruised egos.
"When Malachy came in we were very much out on our feet. We had been beaten in the Ulster championship by Down after being eight or nine points up at half-time and then we lost our next qualifier game (to Laois).
"He came in and just kept everything simple. He has everyone singing from the one hymn sheet and just got boys working for each other.
"We knew ourselves that we had a good group of players. There was talent there but it was about getting everyone pulling in the one direction.
"At the start of last year we had earmarked getting to Croke Park and winning there because we hadn't done it in a few years.
"This year we wanted, firstly, to consolidate our Division 2 status and then, when we got a few wins, we were able to drive on and go for promotion.
"There was a lot of talk that, after winning Ulster for the first time in 25 years, that we would sit back," he adds.
"But this group of players are driven and ambitious. We weren't just going to sit back and admire what we'd done last year."
2013 was a year that finally earned the Clontibret star some long-merited national recognition and not just because he was the man on the end of Sean Cavanagh's infamous rugby-tackle.
By year's end the quietly spoken sales rep for building suppliers TIMco was man of the match in the second International Rules Test and, with corner-back Colin Walshe (out injured for tomorrow's clash), had also joined the select group of five previous Monaghan All Stars, an honour he bears very modestly.
"Teams might try and mark you a wee bit tighter, but I don't think you can think of All Stars or personal things," he insists. "Whenever you go out, you're going out to do a bit for the team."
Like Walshe (hamstring), he too has trouble with a repetitive hip injury that has to be carefully managed and a similar problem sees Darren Hughes still out after surgery.
With Monaghan last into Ulster action (against the winner of Down/Tyrone on June 15), ending the league on a high tomorrow has special significance.
"We have six or seven weeks before we're out again so it's great to get a good competitive game in Croke Park in that time frame. It keeps boys on their toes."