Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX Conor McManus was speaking as an Imagine Broadband ambassador.
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McManus: 'We'll look back in a number of years' time and just say that was crazy stuff'
Conor McManus reflects on Monaghan’s training breach, Donie Buckley’s impact and the Malachy O’Rourke factor.

LIKE DUBLIN, CORK and Down this year, Monaghan made unwanted headlines before the inter-county season even started for their Covid training breach.

Gardaí launched an investigation into the March 2021 session, which was held at a time when collecting GAA training was banned nationwide.

Conor McManus reasons that “every team in the country was probably training but we were one of the teams that got caught.”

He continues, “When you look back on it now it highlights how mad the whole situation was. We’ll probably look back on it in another four or five years’ time and we’ll be talking about guards coming out onto training fields and Gaelic pitches, we’ll look back on it and say it was just a mad, crazy time.

“Did it affect us? It brought a bit of unwanted publicity towards the team but I don’t think there was much negative publicity towards us. It highlighted more so just how crazy a time we were in. A lot of people probably were on our side somewhat in so far as you could understand why people were going out training in the fresh air.

“It wasn’t doing any harm when you seen what has followed since that, we’ve been fit to play a full championship and we’ve had crowds back out and everything else. Lookit, that has all coincided with the vaccines coming back in play. It was something that happened, we dealt with it back then, we put it to be and just moved on from it.”

A file showing footage of the squad training in Corduff was forwarded to the Department of Justice.

“Even now you’re looking back on it, because things have gone back to some form of normality now. I know Covid is still fairly serious at the minute, particularly in the last couple of weeks.

“But we all got back to some form of normality in our lives the last number of weeks and months, there was a full championship played out, there was 40 or 50,000 in Croke Park. We’ve all gone back to our own club championships, they’ve all gone ahead.

“We’re back in pubs and restaurants and things like that there, and when you look at guards and the Department of Justice and things like that coming to Gaelic fields and telling you you’re not allowed to be out on a field, it was surreal. As I say, we’ll look back in a number of years’ time and just say that was crazy stuff.”

Manager Seamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney was suspended for 12 weeks, but McManus doesn’t believe it affected his team negatively. 

“Lookit, it wasn’t ideal,” he says. “But I suppose Banty himself would have said after that that he was up in the stand and had a good vantage point. He was wired down to Vinny (Corey) and Donie Buckley and Daithi (David McCague) on the line.

“So it didn’t have a massive impact and anything we needed to do the message went across and we kept communication with Banty all the time.

“We got done what we needed to do and ultimately the game that we lost in the Ulster final, it wasn’t because Banty was back on the line for that. You can’t say it affected us not having Banty.”

It was a season that culminated in a one-point Ulster final defeat to Tyrone in Croke Park. Monaghan launched a spirited comeback after trailing by five at half-time, falling just short.

Watching Tyrone go on to lift the Sam Maguire after beating Kerry and Mayo left McEneaney’s side wondering what might have been.

“You have to take positives from it especially when you are so far away from it,” says McManus.  

conor-mcmanus-and-padraig-hampsey Tommy Dickson / INPHO McManus takes on Padraig Hampsey during the Ulster final. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

When the Farney return to collective training in the second week of December, he will enter his 16th inter-county campaign at senior level.

The 33-year-old has long battled a hip issue, while he suffered a broken hand in three places last Friday as Clontibret fell to Scotstown in the Monaghan senior league final.

But McManus says the retirement question hasn’t entered his head just yet, as he seeks to squeeze every last drop out of his career with the Farney county.

He expects the hand injury to keep him sidelined for the next four to six weeks, with a return in time for the McKenna Cup in his sights.

“The end is definitely closer than the start anyway, that’s for sure,” he admits.

“No I’m not entertaining it (retirement) for a year or two yet. The automatic thinking is how can we improve next year and where can we go with this next year.

“I think if the body is allowing you to go ahead and do it, go ahead and do it. It is well known at this stage that I am just managing my hip. As long as I can manage that and keep on top of that I will keep going, as long as I am providing something to the team and am wanted around the group, I will continue to do that.

“In the league final last week I managed to break my hand in three places so, yeah, not ideal but there is not much happening for the next couple of weeks. I will be well rested by the time the McKenna Cup comes around.”

After the condensed 2021 season, the veteran forward looking forward to working with the “top class” coach Donie Buckley again for the coming campaign.

Buckley, who previously worked with Mayo and Kerry, had been linked with a return to his native county in the off-season but is on board again for 2022.

“The one thing we’ll be looking forward to this year is actually having Donie for a full period of time, and him getting his teeth into us more and more,” says McManus.

“You could only just start to see the fruits of where we were going with things. And then obviously the year ended with defeat in the Ulster final. So we’d be hopeful that having Donie right from the off this year, in terms of a full season’s training, seven games in the National League, two or three games in the McKenna Cup.

“All of those things will help, there’s maybe learning to be got from Donie. And the more time we can spend with him, the better.”

malachy-orourke-at-the-end-of-the-game Lorcan Doherty / INPHO Glen manager Malachy O'Rourke at the end of the Derry SFC final. Lorcan Doherty / INPHO / INPHO

McManus wasn’t surprised to see former Monaghan boss Malachy O’Rourke lead Glen to Derry SFC success in recent weeks and believes he’ll return to inter-county management at some point down the line.

“It is no surprise that Glen have won their first championship. When that appointment was made I was telling a few guys and anybody that would listen to put their money on Glen to win the Derry championship just because wherever Malachy goes success follows.

“I have watched them once or twice this year and it was a very good win for them to beat a team like Slaughtneil as comfortably as they did in the Derry final was a serious achievement.

“I would say his phone would be hopping every winter and every time the season comes to a close. I have no doubt that there are teams looking for him and rightly so because he is one of the best managers in the country.

“Will he be managing in the next couple of years? Who knows? I would say he will stick it out with Glen for the next year or two possibly given they have won one and are obviously in the Ulster club championship now and they will probably look to try and win another Derry championship next year with Malachy.

“I have no doubt you will see Malachy in an inter-county dressing room at some stage again because he is too good not to be.”

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