Conor McManus banishes bitter Cavan memory to book Monaghan's Ulster final place
RORY Beggan never stood a chance. When Conor McManus was hauled to the ground by Aidan Forker in stoppage-time and Monaghan trailing by a point, the Scotstown goalkeeper made his way up field to debate who was taking the resultant free.
It was a short conversation. McManus would accept responsibility.
“We did talk about it,” confirmed McManus. “Rory asked me did I want it and I said: ‘Yes’.”
McManus arrowed the ball between Armagh’s posts. A couple of minutes later, the Monaghan ace was felled again in the scoring zone, only at a more demanding angle.
This time Beggan didn’t move a muscle.
“Rory didn’t come near me for the second one,” smiled McManus.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. McManus slung over the free that killed off Armagh’s incredible challenge in last weekend’s epic Ulster semi-final.
And with seconds remaining Monaghan substitute Stephen O’Hanlon grabbed an insurance point.
McManus has won countless big games for Monaghan. Saturday was another glorious archive in a stunning career.
And yet, the Clontibret man shouldered the blame for Monaghan’s provincial exit to Cavan in 2020 when he missed a handy free in the closing stages before the Breffni men forced the game into extra-time.
Asked if last year’s crucial missed free was playing on his mind before stepping up to take the two stoppage-time frees against Armagh, McManus replied: “No, they are two totally different years. When you look back at the Cavan game you just have to park it. You have days like that. We had a day like that.
“In fairness, it looked like we were going to have another day like that with five or 10 minutes to go because Armagh were coming back very strong. But we know the character in this team and we showed it towards the end and we grinded it out.”
Last October, Monaghan led Cavan by seven points at half-time. It could have been double that tally had Seamus McEnaney’s men taken a couple of their goal chances.
A passive second half performance from Monaghan allowed Cavan to recover. But last Saturday’s ‘squandering’ of a seven-point lead felt completely different.
“It was nuts. When you score four goals in any game and find yourself two points down with five or six to go you're thinking: ‘How did we manage that?’
“But it shows the quality we were playing against. Armagh were very good and they really gave us everything and it took a right bit of desire to pull it out.”
Despite the anarchy of the afternoon in Newry, 34-year-old McManus says he savours Championship days more than ever.
“You are able to enjoy them - 100 percent you do. We’ve had plenty of bad days so it’s great to have some good days.
“These are the days you play for, these are the days you want to be playing in an Ulster Championship game and it was great to see a bit of a crowd back, even though there were only 2,000 or 3,000, you could really hear them getting behind you. It was great. We all missed that last year and it is great to have supporters back.”
He added: “It is all about the Championship. The League is a very important competition for us. We’ve been in Division One for seven or eight years now so it’s very important but this year there were only going to be three or four games so you really couldn’t hang your whole year on that and we knew we had to get ready for the Championship match against Fermanagh and we tried as best we could to prepare for Armagh in light of the terrible news about Brendan Og Duffy. And we came out with the right result.”
McManus was a doubt for last weekend’s semi-final after taking a heavy hit to his leg during Monaghan’s opening win over Fermanagh, but the injury cleared up just in time.
“I got my first bit of kicking in on Wednesday or Thursday so I was happy enough, but it was tight.”