Monaghan's sole focus is on Down, insists McManus
There will be no taking the eye off the ball, Conor McManus insists. Monaghan are expected to account for Down on Saturday night and move into another Ulster final, their fourth in five years. But McManus shakes his head at such an assumption.
He played in Clones last year when qualifier specialists Longford plundered St Tiernach's Park. Within a week, Monaghan went from trying to get into an Ulster final to being out of the championship altogether.
"That game would bring anyone back to reality and it has done with us," McManus reflects. "This time last year on one Saturday we were preparing to get into an Ulster final, fast forward seven days and we are out of the All-Ireland championship completely.
"Obviously everyone in Ireland would love to do that (get to an All-Ireland final) but it's not something we are looking at. If we can get ourselves into an Ulster final and get over this hurdle with Down then we'll look at an Ulster final and maybe things would open up for you. But at the minute it's not on our radar at all."
From the outside, Monaghan look to have evolved. Their league consisted of wins away to the likes of Kerry and Mayo and, in Jack McCarron, they had one of the spring's best players.
His form hasn't quite carried into championship just yet but along with Conor McCarthy and Owen Duffy, Monaghan are finding ways to hurt teams other than through McManus.
They needed other threats. While it was accepted that they could compete with anyone in the country, they still needed McManus to shoot the lights out if they were to swim with the sharks.
But the 'one-man team' label has never sat well with McManus.
"It's never something I really bought into to be perfectly honest with you. You can't really control what people say, or what media say.
"You kind of get sick after a while listening to it. I know the boys in the team certainly don't think that way, the management certainly never thought that way.
"Look, people form their own opinions and there's nothing you can do about that but we're very much focused on the team and getting the performances out of everybody.
"We have scorers... like, lads like Owen Duffy chipping in with scores, Conor McCarthy, Jack McCarron, boys are coming up from the back chipping in with scores."
It's McManus' contention that Monaghan have added an extra layer to their play year on year under Malachy O'Rourke, who is in his fifth season in charge of the Farney men. With a certain amount of defensive security built into the team, they can afford to be more adventurous.
"When we came to Croke Park initially we probably didn't score enough in those years and probably weren't carrying enough of a threat. If you look at us now, we're scoring heavier and there's more threats coming from all over the field. We're by no means the finished product but it's something we're working on. You can probably see just by looking at Monaghan that they're trying to be more attack-minded and to get more scores. It's something that we're conscious of.
"I would say we have evolved steadily, year on year, since Malachy came in, and I know we won the Ulster Championship in his first year, but I definitely think we're a better team now than we were then.
"You're all the time trying to improve and, you know, you come up to Croke Park and you don't be long learning about your deficiencies and your weakness."
Croke Park in the championship has proved to be their Achilles heel. Three All-Ireland quarter-finals have come and gone without a win. That's a wrong they want to right but they won't think of that until they get to play in the big house.
"You can only be judged on results and we haven't won enough games in Croke Park and we can't argue with that. But it's not something that is hanging over us or is bothering us. What we need to do now is get ourselves back to Croke Park, but we have a lot of work to do before that."