‘He always wanted to play another year’ - Monaghan manager Corey delighted to have ‘Mansy’ for Ulster Championship opener against Cavan at Clones

Veteran McManus will lead attack as Monaghan prepare for derby duel with old foes Cavan

Conor McManus on the attack for Monaghan at O'Neill's Healy Park on Saturday night. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Conor McManus on the attack for Monaghan at Healy Park. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

MONAGHAN’S 10-season watch in Division One came to an end last month but two outstanding performances during the League should keep spirits up going into Sunday’s Ulster Championship derby against Cavan.

The first was beating All-Ireland champions at Croke Park and the second, although it ended in defeat, was the Conor McManus-inspired 70 minutes against Tyrone at Healy Park.

After a quiet first half in Omagh, McManus reeled back the years in the second and gave Padraig Hampsey a torrid time of it as Monaghan came to the brink of a win that might have kept them up.

Now in his 18th season, ‘Mansy’ will play for his county as long as his body allows him, says Monaghan manager Vinny Corey, his clubmate at Clontibret.

“We had a right few chats and he was undecided at the start of the year,” said Corey.

“I’m not too sure how much influence those chats had, but I think always in Mansy’s mind was whether the body could stand up to the rigours of county football for another year and once he decided that was the route he was going, there was no doubt that he always wanted to play another year with Monaghan.

“You never had to persuade him about that as such, it was more so the body side of things and his body is in good enough nick at the minute.

“He played well against Tyrone and he will take a lot of confidence from that game. Even though he only played that one game in the League, it was enough for a fella of his vintage.

“When you get to that stage, when you have played 18 seasons it is just a matter of the niggling doubt ‘Can I still do it at this level?’ and once he realised in that game that he could, he got as much out of the League as anyone else did.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised he came back. (I knew) He would play on if the hip would allow him to play on and I wasn’t a bit surprised especially when Darren Hughes and all those boys had committed - it wasn’t a big shock.”

Darren Hughes, like McManus a tireless soldier for his county, battled hard in midfield but with so many injuries compounded by the loss of defensive conductor Rory Beggan to NFL Monaghan’s ship finally sank to Division Two. Corey, a member of the side that got the county promoted to the top flight in 2014, remains philosophical about the relegation.

“I wouldn’t say I’m depressed, I wouldn’t go that far,” he said.

“There is a difference in a year. The League in general… We can’t have any complaints, it was the way the League went for us. It is difficult every year to stay in Division One but it was very difficult this year.

“Your first preference from the League is to get your consistent team going and get some game-time into them and for different reasons this year we couldn’t get that so we have to take whatever positives we can out of the League.

“It gave opportunities for other younger players to get game-time and I suppose that is what we will take out of it.

“We were missing six or seven starters and we have a few injuries at the minute, Stephen O’Hanlon missed most of the League but is recovering quite well, Michael Hannon is another young player who we blooded and was going very well and he is recovering well at the minute.

“We have a number of injuries and then we have a number coming back, we just haven’t got the opportunity yet to put it all together.”

Raymond Galligan kicks his side's winning point, a free in extra-time, during the Ulster Championship preliminary round match between Monaghan and Cavan at St Tiernach's Park in Clones. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.
Raymond Galligan kicks Cavan's winner point, a free in extra-time, in the Ulster Championship preliminary round match between Monaghan and Cavan at St Tiernach's Park in Clones in 2020. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

IN their League campaign Cavan established themselves in Division Two. With few alarms, they finished third in the table with seven points. However, the took just one of those points from their final three games which included a chastening hammering in Armagh.

Now under the management of former goalkeeper Raymond Galligan – the matchwinner against Monaghan in the 2020 ‘Covid’ Championship - Corey expects a typically feisty derby at Clones on Sunday.

“It’s always a very difficult game,” he said.

“The last few times we played them in the Championship they’ve beaten us and we are very aware of that.

“They would probably argue that they had a better League campaign than we had this year as well so it’s going to be a difficult game, local derbies always are and I don’t expect this one to be any different.”

One thing that is different – certainly from Corey’s playing days – is the fixture schedule. An Ulster Championship opener on the first weekend of April was unheard of not so long ago when teams trained and then trained some more as they waited for the Anglo-Celt action to begin.

Whether it’s in April, May or June, Championship is Championship says Corey.

“You prepare accordingly,” he said.

“I think the key thing for us is to try and get boys fit and healthy and balance that with trying to get effective game-time into them.

“It is a tight turnaround, there were years there when there was eight weeks to your first Championship game from your last National League game and boys went back and played with their clubs.

“That is not there anymore and it is even worse when you’re drawn in the preliminary round which we are so it is a difficult turnaround but we will have to deal with it as best we can.

“I don’t think you can squeeze a whole pile of heavy training in now, it’s just too tight. And you can see the trouble teams have with injuries so there is no point getting a heavy block in and having five or six boys injured. That is no good to anyone either.

“If you are going to be potentially playing three or four games in your province and you get out of it unscathed you are going to be in a good position but if you don’t you are going to be in a worse positions than a team that doesn’t have to play that amount.”

Monaghan's Vinnie Corey at the start of the Allianz Football League Division 1 between Monaghan and Armagh at St Mary's Park Castleblayney on 01-28-2023. Pic Philip Walsh.
Vinny Corey guided Monaghan to the All-Ireland semi-finals in his first season in charge. Pic Philip Walsh.

DRAWING with Derry and beating Clare was enough to ease Monaghan out of the new Super 16 stage and into the knockout phase last year. The Farneymen beat Kildare, then used every second of their vast experience to knock out Armagh before pushing eventual champions Dublin relentlessly for an hour of their semi-final.

“It was exciting enough last year,” said Corey of the Super 16 format.

“I suppose you can see why it does condense a lot… It is a very condensed season now on the back of it. I’m not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing.

“There is no breathing space in between all those games, you get to a stage now where you don’t know what the fall-out to it is until it is has been there for two or three years. Players are now playing a lot of high intensity games in a very short space of time.

“But I thought the boys really embraced it and were building game-on-game and found that as it went on they were getting better and better. From our experience we would not have found the mental fatigue of it.”

With Rory Beggan “waiting for a call” from an NFL team with the offer of a contract, Corey has to decide whether to include the Scotstown veteran – who has trained with the squad since returning from the USA – or keep faith with Darren McDonnell who replaced him for the League.

Beggan’s shoes are big ones to fill and Corey says McDonnell needs time to find his feet.

“It’s probably an unrealistic leap to get right into that top three goalkeepers who can take the kickouts and can be involved in the play for someone who has never played county before,” he said.

“He can look to improve game-on-game and learn but you are talking about a player who has never had any exposure at county level so to suddenly do all that Niall Morgan does or Rory Beggan does it is probably unrealistic.

“Darren is the only (other) ‘keeper who has played National League for Monaghan in the last 10 years. Division One is a tough place to start and he has done as well as can be expected and he has improved in each game.

“It is a high pressure position to be coming into at the best of times, never mind trying to come in after Rory Beggan. We’re happy with the enthusiasm and positivity that Darren has shown even though there would be learning points in it for him but he has always bounced back and kept coming.”