'Maybe it's a surprise for other people because of his age, but not for us': Paddy Burke on magic McManus
NOTHING Neil McManus does could surprise Paddy Burke any more.
The pair have shared the field for club and county throughout the last decade, known each other even longer, but a wide smile still takes over the Cushendall full-back’s face when thinking back on his team-mate’s latest work of wonder.
With Portaferry edging towards a shock Ulster semi-final win heading into added time, McManus stepped up to fire a last-gasp free through a wall of blue and gold, sending the game into extra-time.
The Ruairi Ogs didn’t look back, two goals from young Joe McLaughlin crushing Portaferry hopes as the Antrim champions moved into to a mouth-watering Ulster final showdown with Slaughtneil on December 3.
But it was the 35-year-old McManus who came up with the goods when most needed, just as he has done so many times before.
“He doesn’t surprise us,” said Burke.
“The way he looks after himself, he just sets an example for the rest of us to try and follow with his lifestyle and how it’s geared around hurling. He’s still the main man at training – he gave me a hard time last week in an in-house game.
“Maybe it’s a surprise for other people because of his age, but not for us. That man could probably hurl to whatever age he wanted, the way he plays and the way he looks after himself.
“He still has all the ability in the world, and thankfully he keeps showcasing that in big games.”
Above all, though, Burke - who popped up with a first half score after Cushendall had taken time to settle into Sunday’s last four clash – was just happy to have got over the line after Portaferry looked primed to pull off an upset in Armagh.
“It’s just pure relief.
“There was a time I looked around and there was four points in it, but then the umpire told us there was five minutes to go plus injury-time… you think these things then they don’t happen, but when we were going on that attack for Neil to even win then free, I was thinking ‘we’re going to hit a goal here’.
“Obviously when Neil’s standing over it, you have complete confidence. A 21 is nearly like a penalty for him, the way he hits the ball, and he had to go for it at that stage.
“Portaferry ran into us from the off, it didn’t surprise us, it was probably just a bit of nerves, a few handling errors and then the wides. Thankfully Neil did enough to pull us back into extra-time, then Joseph lit it up.
“They’re both unbelievable forwards, they did the business for us today when we were leaking soft goals at the back. We know Portaferry are a good team so it was always going to be that sort of game.
“We’re just relieved that we did actually play a bit of our own hurling then towards the end.”
Neil McManus' last gasp free fired to the net to force extra-time in a phenomenal @AIB_GAA #UlsterClub2023 SHC Semi Final!⚾️— Ulster GAA (@UlsterGAA) November 19, 2023
The second half of extra time coming up!@portaferrygac 3-18@RuairiOgCLG 2-25
Live on Ulster GAA TV
➡️ https://t.co/y8sxu5gR9S#ClubMeansMore pic.twitter.com/Eh1Kdiz5wk
And the next hurdle that must be overcome is Michael McShane’s Derry champions, determined to reclaim the Four Seasons Cup after Dunloy ripped it from their grasp last year.
By the time the final comes around it will have been 11 weeks since Slaughtneil’s county final defeat of Kevin Lynch’s, whereas Cushendall come in battle-hardened after Sunday’s encounter and a gripping Antrim decider.
But Burke doesn’t believe their opponents’ waiting game will be a significant factor.
“Ah I don’t know if there’s any advantage, you just play the hand you’re dealt.
“It is two weeks away so there’ll be no issues with us being fresh or ready for the game.
It was great to get a battle like that, obviously the Antrim final was a really tight game too, and today we had to answer a lot of questions throughout the game, then into extra-time, which will hopefully stand to us.”