Monaghan star McManus still optimistic about reaching All-Ireland semi-final
CONOR McManus could have been forgiven for ignoring interview requests and getting off the Clones pitch as quickly as possible after the devastating disappointment of failing to hold on to an All-Ireland semi-final place.
Typically, though, the Clontibret man spoke to the media almost immediately after the dramatic draw with Kerry on Sunday – well, after a certain delay when he posed for copious photographs and signed many shirts for awestruck young supporters of both teams.
The 31-year-old accepted that the 1-17 apiece result felt more like a defeat than a draw, given that Monaghan had led from his second minute goal until the equalising major from David Clifford in the fourth minute of added time.
However, ‘Mansy’ pointed out the positives of his side’s performance – and even managed a slight smile, saying: “Aye, I suppose it did [feel like a loss] but we're still in the Championship, that's the main thing. That's what we have to take out of this.
“Kerry were coming here as favourites and one of the top teams in the country and we gave them a run for about 74 minutes there - we just forgot about the last minute.
“Look it, it is what it is. We have to dust ourselves down and go again. We have a game in two weeks’ time and have chances to still make an All-Ireland semi-final and it's a chance we'll do everything to take.”
Kerry were fighting for their Championship lives but just could not get on level terms with Monaghan until almost the very end, which was impressive from the hosts, as McManus made clear:
“We led from the very start, we just forgot to see it out…A team of Kerry's quality is always going to keep fighting. Their season was on the line there and they came roaring back at the end.
“But there is a lot we can take out of that, disappointing and all as it is, but we just have to get over that. We'll take [Sunday and Monday] to recover and then we'll look ahead.”
When you’re disappointed at drawing with Kerry in the Championship you know you’re a good side, a very good one.
Monaghan arguably already deserve to be in the All-Ireland semi-finals. McManus, who was only a baby when they last played at that stage, in 1988, did more than anyone to almost seal that spot, scoring 1-9 and tackling back like a demon.
He and his Farney colleagues will bring that never-say-die attitude to Salthill on Saturday August 4, where they will face Connacht champions Galway.
A draw would suit both sides, as the Tribesmen would still top the group and avoid Dublin in the last four, but McManus knows GAA teams can’t ‘play for the draw’: “It is a difficult one but it was a difficult one [facing Kerry].
“To get into an All-Ireland semi-final we have to go and beat a very good Galway side and that is a big challenge. They're already through so it's just about focussing now on two weeks’ time.”
McManus was adamant that there’s no point in looking back in anger or with regret at letting Kerry snatch a share of the spoils, commenting:
“What's the point? People talked and talked about the game against Fermanagh earlier in the year [the last-gasp Ulster SFC semi-final loss] and there was a lot said about that - but you don't get too down when you lose and you don't get too high when you win.
“If we had won here we wouldn't be getting carried away anyway. Let's just continue on, do what we do best. We'll train hard over the next two weeks and we'll go again.”
Monaghan actually played very well in their round five League game away to eventual Division One table-toppers Galway, also in Pearse Stadium, before losing Fintan Kelly to a straight red card before half-time, and the hosts then ran out four-point winners, 0-17 to 1-10.
However, McManus puts little store by that fine display with 15 men, stating: “Aye, we probably did [play well] but it was a league game. It's different now going down there in two weeks time, it's championship football.
“It will be tougher but our season is on the line now. There's an All-Ireland semi-final up for grabs in two weeks time’ and we want to be in it.”
The influence of former Tyrone trainer Paddy Tally has made the Tribesmen much harder to beat, with only Dublin having done so this year, in the Division One Final, so McManus knows the toughness of the task ahead of him and his Monaghan colleagues:
“Yeah Galway are very well set up, they are very good defensively, and they can hit you going the other way so it's very much all to play for.”
Despite his side’s superb start against Kerry – “I found myself one-on-one with the goalie, he did well to push me out wide and luckily I got it underneath him” – it was the home team’s finish (combined with the brilliant goal from teenager Clifford) that cost Monaghan a famous first ever Championship victory over the Kingdom:
“We probably missed chances there too, a couple towards the end of the half. We needed to put those away to put a bit of daylight between us and Kerry.
“You need to be having a five or six-point lead against a team like Kerry and we didn't see that out. Sure that's football, you have to play until the very last minute.”
Have no doubt, Monaghan will battle to the last in Salthill to secure All-Ireland semi-final slot. Barring injury, Conor McManus will be on that pitch, doing what he does, until the end.