Conor McManus the man to spearhead Monaghan survival mission: Tommy Freeman

Conor McManus has only been used from the bench so far this year, but could start in Sunday's clash with Mayo
Conor McManus has only been used from the bench so far this year, but could start in Sunday's clash with Mayo

MONAGHAN have no option but to go for broke in their survival mission against high-flying Mayo on Sunday – and Conor McManus is the man to set them off on the front foot, according to former Farney hotshot Tommy Freeman.

A long-standing hip issue has seen McManus used as an impact sub in games against Donegal, Roscommon, Galway and Mayo, after playing no part in the opening defeats to Armagh and Kerry.

Even at 35 the Clontribret ace has brought a touch of class when introduced from the bench but, after a lacklustre performance from the Farney in defeat to Tyrone, Vinny Corey’s men need to beat Mayo in Castlebar and hope Tyrone can topple old foes Armagh to stay in Division One.

It is a tall order but Monaghan have produced Houdini-esque escapes before, and Freeman feels their cause would be aided by calling on McManus’s experience from the start in MacHale Park.

“Conor owes Monaghan football nothing, and he’s a good friend of mine. So is Vinny - when he got the job I was one of the first men on to congratulate him, and whatever decision he goes with, I’m fully behind him,” said the Magheracloone man.

“Would I start Conor on Sunday? Yes I would. Let him give whatever he has, he’d be well fit to play the 70 minutes knowing Conor.

“We have to go with our best foot forward, we have nothing to lose at this stage. We can’t worry about what’s happening in Omagh, Monaghan have to try and win their match and see where that leaves us.

“Try and beat Mayo and hopefully Tyrone can do us a favour. As much as anything, Vinny will want to see a positive performance with Championship just around the corner.”

Monaghan are aiming to secure a 10th straight season in the National League’s top tier, where only Kerry have been resident for longer.

They have sailed close to the wind several times since earning promotion, narrowly avoiding the drop in 2016, 2019 and then the past three campaigns, with Jack McCarron winners keeping them up at the death in the past two years.

Corey has widened the pool of Monaghan players in his first year at the helm, and victories over Donegal and Roscommon looked to have turned the tide.

But Freeman feels the absence of some key men has had an impact.

“He’s missing a couple of players from last season in Niall Kearns and Ryan McAnespie who Monaghan can’t really afford to do without - McAnespie is a great attacking wing-back, brings a lot to the team, then Kearns is a big man in midfield.

“Unfortunately there wasn’t anything Vinny could do there.”

Monaghan have struggled to make an impression on the scoreboard when it matters, and were particularly flat at times in defeat to Galway in Tyrone.

For Freeman, this is an issue that spreads far beyond his own county, with the game becoming increasingly “hard to watch”.

“Even away from Monaghan, in general, the football at the minute is poor. Would I like to be playing now? Absolutely not.

“The GAA is losing its identity this last number of years - that’s concerning for the GAA as a whole.”