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The key moments in tense finale when Monaghan's leader won the Ulster semi-final

When Armagh moved two points ahead in the 63rd minute, Conor McManus took over.

CONSIDERING HE TURNS 34 later this year and battled injury coming into the Ulster semi-final, the manner by which Conor McManus dragged Monaghan over the line was stirring.

conor-mcmanus-celebrates-their-score-late-on Monaghan's Conor McManus celebrates their score late on. Source: John McVitty/INPHO

In searing height at the Athletic Grounds, his clutch performance down the home straight was one of the big reasons why Seamus ‘Banty’ McEneaney’s team are preparing for their first Ulster final since 2015.

McManus’s right thigh was heavily bandaged for the quarter-final win over Fermanagh two weeks ago and things looked much worse when he was helped off with a knee injury late in the game.

While they’ve added plenty of new faces and pace up front, McManus is still the main man in the Monaghan side. He showed his leadership quality in spades in the dying minutes, with their championship on the line. 

Closer analysis of the Clontibret forward’s contribution in the finale show how central he remains to Monaghan 14 years after making his debut.

From the 60th minute to the 75th (including stoppage-time), McManus got his hands on the ball four times in open play. That may not sound impressive, but he was operating under the close observations of James Morgan, who’s one of the tightest man-markers in Ulster. 

For three of those possessions, he drew fouls in a scoreable area. He slotted all three frees, while under considerable pressure, between the posts.

Magic McManus

In the 61st minute, Armagh move a point in front. A minute later, McManus is being double-marked near the left flank. A backdoor cut, gets him in behind Morgan and the pass arrives into space. He drives forward but shoots wide off his left foot.

In the next play Oisin O’Neill drops over a booming point to edge Armagh two clear with 63 minutes on the clock. 

At this stage of the game, McManus knows he needs to come up with something. It’s a difficult prospect with Armagh filling the their defence with bodies, not to mention Morgan’s close marking.  

He has taken up a position inside the D, when a handpass comes from Darren Hughes. McManus collects it and immediately runs past Morgan before he’s eventually clipped and a free is awarded.


On second viewing, McManus used all his experience by grabbing one of Morgan’s arms to hinder his tackle.

Screenshot 2021-07-20 at 17.55.32

He puts the free sailing between the posts to reduce the gap to a point.

After a period of Armagh possession, Monaghan are working the ball around the defensive arch by the 68th minute. McManus is lurking around the shooting zone but he’s been tightly marked by his shadow Morgan.

Screenshot 2021-07-20 at 18.00.46

Monaghan work the ball to the left flank and still he has little or no space to operate in.

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Darren Hughes drives down the middle channel and some good link-up play gets the ball in McManus’s hand within range of the posts.

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He uncharacteristically spilled the ball but managed to collect ahead of a pair of nearby Armagh defenders. He draws a free after a poor tackle from Aidan Forker…

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…that sees the Armagh man yellow carded. The free is the sort of one you’d expect a forward of his calibre to nail, yet it’s a pressure kick all the same. 

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McManus’s equaliser from the resultant free brings his tally to 1-6 with four minutes of stoppage-time left to play.

With 73:41 on the clock, Monaghan intercept Stefan Campbell’s pass to Rian O’Neill. The Farney move it upfield quickly. McManus is fouled by the defender as he attempts to get forward, but it goes unnoticed by the officials. 

Screenshot 2021-07-20 at 20.16.39

He eventually breaks clear and hangs out near the wing, before cutting inside to take a pass on the move. A swinging hand from an Armagh substitute is enough to take the veteran ace down.

On second viewing, it’s fair to say McManus used all his experience to go down after feeling contact in the chest.

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He nails the pressure free from a difficult position to send Monaghan in front as the five minutes of stoppage-time expire.


Monaghan win the break from the next kick-out and a patient move sees Stephen O’Hanlon burst through to kick the insurance score.

From the three possessions he received inside the scoring zone, McManus took on the Armagh defence and drew contact each time, using all his nous to make sure he was fouled. 

His three pointed frees turned a two-point deficit into a one-point lead, one Monaghan wouldn’t relinquish. You can’t beat class. 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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