Monaghan must learn from Championship failings of last summer insists sharp-shooter Conor McManus
FOR the second year in-a-row Monaghan have defied the doubters by pushing hard at the top of Division One, but Conor McManus insists it will count for nothing if they suffer another disappointing Championship summer.
The Farneymen were in the shake-up for a place in the League final heading into the last day of their 2017 campaign, and were tipped to carry that form into the summer.
However, the exertions of the Spring months caught on them by the time Championship came around as they were stunned by Down in the provincial semi-final before limply bowing out to Dublin in the last eight of the All-Ireland series.
They face the Dubs at Croke Park again this Sunday with four wins already in the bag and plenty of pats on the back, but McManus admits that 2017 still serves as a cautionary tale.
“We wanted to improve on what we did last week,” said the Clontibret ace after Sunday's six-point win over a depleted Donegal.
“We wouldn't have been happy with the second half down in Galway last weekend, we worked on a few things during the week and we just wanted to come here and get a better performance.
“We can only be happy with how we've performed there in the second half. We weren't good in the first half, even though we had the breeze. Donegal played all the football in the first half, second half we got the goal early and that probably settled us down a wee bit.
“It's good to win games and get boys into the habit of winning games, but we're well aware that Donegal were under-strength – they were missing the two McHughs, Odhran Mac Niallais, Neil McGee… they've a lot of boys to come back in so it probably isn't a fair reflection on Donegal there today.
“Look, we'd a good League campaign last year, there was a lot of talk about us but ultimately we'd a poor Championship
“That's the challenge for us here now, getting our heads down over the next six or seven weeks and looking forward to the Championship game against Tyrone.”
Boss Malachy O'Rourke had resolved to rotate his squad more this time around, having largely used the same starting 15 for much of last year's League.
There were concerns that approach could threaten Monaghan's four year stay in Division One but it has reaped handsome dividends, with the Farneymen safe and sitting third in the table.
McManus was quick to hail the young guns who have grabbed their opportunity, and reserved special mention for the more experienced heads still pushing hard.
He added: “It shows the resilience and the character in there.
“We don't get caught up in what the media or anybody else is saying. We've been tipped to go down fairly regularly over the last number of years but there's quality in that dressing room, it's just about getting it out of ourselves.
“A number of lads have done well – Davy Garland was very good there today, kicked three or four great scores when we needed them, Conor Boyle has come back in and been exceptional for us throughout the whole League campaign, Niall Kearns has done very well in the middle of the field.
“We've unearthed a few young lads but on the flip side of that you've the experience of men like Dessie [Mone] and Vinny [Corey] who are still there and still giving it everything they have after 14 or 15 years. It's very important we have that mix of experience and youth but we're well aware we have a lot to do.
“We'll go to Croke Park next weekend and try and improve on what we've been doing. That was far from the perfect performance out there, we've a lot to work on and there's no better place to do that than against the Dubs and see where you're really at.”