'I feel every bit of it': Conor McManus still defying age and injury for Monaghan cause
THE adrenaline has long worn off by the time Conor McManus heads for the tunnel in Castlebar, a good 40 minutes after his penalty opened the floodgates for another last day of the League survival party.
Stiffness has started to kick in, the troubled hips the 35-year-old continues to defy causing visible discomfort as he ambles through the gate after another marathon autograph-signing session out on the field at MacHale Park.
This was the Clontibret man’s first start of the year, and not a bad afternoon’s work at all. Leading the line superbly over the course of 70-plus minutes, McManus finished up with 1-6 and provided an exhibition in economy of movement.
Two expertly won forward marks helped Monaghan make the breakthrough as the game hung in the balance, the penalty the cherry on the icing on the cake. The pain is the price paid for another almighty contribution to the cause.
Even Kevin McStay, in the middle of the Mayo post-mortem, appeared momentarily transported back to the pundit’s chair as praise was lavished.
“I’m very happy to talk about Conor McManus,” said the former Sunday Game stalwart, whose side face Connacht rivals Galway in Sunday’s Division One decider.
“He’s just a brilliant, brilliant player. He must be about 50 now at this stage! And he’s still doing damage to every team he goes out against. I’ve been a big admirer for a long time, nothing surprises us too much with Conor’s efforts today.
“And yet we had a good shot. We kept at it. Nobody went home and left him to himself, he’s just a very wily footballer and he did very well for Monaghan, especially when it was on the line.”
You know there’s something up when a Monaghan supporter shouts ‘come on Tyrone’ with a few minutes left— Neil Loughran (@neil_loughran) March 26, 2023
The Farney stay up again, make that five years from nine, sending Armagh down. Incredible scenes in Castlebar pic.twitter.com/we56WbPn20
The jibes about age are not new on McManus - “I feel every bit of it” – as he remains Monaghan’s go-to man. For the fifth time in nine Division One campaigns their skins had been saved on the final day, any doubters silenced once more.
“Listen, we’re making a habit of it now at this stage,” he smiled, “if you boys keep predicting us to go down, youse will get it right it right some day.
“We dug in, and boys like Darren Hughes, Karl O’Connell… massive, massive performances from them men. It was a wee bit of will there in the last 10 minutes and, to be fair, probably Mayo didn’t have that as much as we did.
“Our need was greater than theirs.”
And while Clontribret club-mate Vinny Corey, like his predecessors, has handled McManus with kid gloves, it is still tough to watch on from the bench while the county is struggling.
“Listen, you just have to take your time and bide your time, and when you get in and get a chance, you try and take it.
“You want to be winning games, and we had some good performances throughout the League and some very good individual performances throughout the League, but just didn’t get the rub of the green.
“Against Galway in the second half, against a strong breeze, we didn’t perform as well as we would have liked. Last weekend against Tyrone in the second half, we were down to 13 men and didn’t perform as well as we would have liked.”
Monaghan will have the opportunity to settle that score on April 16 when they face Tyrone in Omagh. The Red Hands may have done Corey’s men a favour on Sunday, but any gratitude will soon be forgotten once Championship rolls around.
And McManus wasn’t about to get too caught up in the fervour of the Farney’s latest survival mission.
“It doesn’t mean a whole pile, to be honest with you.
“Yes, you’ll take a wee bit of momentum going in in three weeks’ time but, at the end of the day, if we’d won or lost today, we still have to go to Omagh in three weeks’ time and try and get a win.
“What it does mean is we’re starting in Division One next year and that’s ultimately where Monaghan needs to be and wants to be.”