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Shock Longford defeat still fuelling McManus and Monaghan

A surprise summer exit has not been forgotten by the Farney men as they head into an Ulster semi-final against Down.

Monaghan's Conor McManus is a key attacking weapon for the Farney men.
Monaghan's Conor McManus is a key attacking weapon for the Farney men.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IT MAY BE nigh on a year since perennial qualifier giant-killers Longford dumped Monaghan out of the 2016 All-Ireland football championship, but the wound still stings.

The Farney men had their summer ended on home turf with July but nine days old last year, and it’s been a motivating factor for Monaghan ever since. It doesn’t even need to be mentioned, it’s a common understanding among the panel.

Talisman Conor McManus finds himself in a tricky situation; he can’t help but be pleased by another reasonable Division 1 campaign and efficient championship victories against Fermanagh and Cavan.

But the misery inflicted by Longford in Clones is still hanging over Malachy O’Rourke’s side, and McManus knows the only way to banish it is by making sure they’re playing well into the summer this time around.

“We were very disappointed with it,” McManus says of last year’s Longford defeat.

“We had hoped that we could have gone on a bit of a run in the qualifiers and get back to Croke Park in August but it didn’t happen.

“On one Saturday you’re competing to get into an Ulster final, fast-forward seven days and you’re out of the championship completely. It was tough to take.

“It’s disappointing still, the year last year. We lost the Ulster semi-final after a replay, by a point, and then six days later your whole summer is over.

“It was disappointing and it was a long summer watching all the action and a long winter also.

So, it’s good to get back. We have had a relatively good league campaign after working hard over the winter.

“So far, so good but things can change very quickly in sport and in GAA so we are very much focused on the next day.”

The next day is Saturday, and an Ulster semi-final encounter with Down at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds [throw-in 7pm, live RTÉ2].

Expectation, as ever, is high around this Monaghan team, something that got the better of them last year.

“So far we have dealt with it (the expectation) this year. Last year we didn’t. This time last year we were playing Longford in the qualifiers, so we still have a lot of learning to do.”

Eamon Burns Down manager Eamon Burns. Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

Many expected Down to falter at their first Ulster SFC hurdle, but they kept a talented Armagh attack to just three points in the second half of their 0-15 to 2-7 victory.

The Mourne men may not be the force of old but McManus insists he remains wary of Eamon Burns’ charges, who only just avoided relegation to Division 3 earlier this year.

“We watched them against Armagh. Armagh were hotly fancied to progress in that game. It was a big win for Down.

“People have been talking about how they haven’t been going well but Down are a traditional football team. Any time you come up against Down, they’re always a challenge.

“We played Down in an Ulster semi-final back in 2012, in the same venue. We were seven points up at one stage and they came back and won by two and we were out on our ear. Down have that tradition in championship football and it’s very dangerous.

“It’s certainly going to be a big challenge for us to see where we can get by them and where we can find space.

“At the other end, Down’s forwards caused a lot of trouble. The whole talk going into that game was of the Armagh forward line whereas it was the Down defence and the Down attack that really won it.”

Monaghan's Conor McManus at the launch of SuperValu’s #BehindTheBall campaign at Croke Park. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The Monaghan attack has been the focus of much discussion over the past few months, and more particularly the form of Jack McCarron and the scoring burden it has taken off McManus’ shoulders —  from play and placed balls.

McCarron’s sweet left foot offers a satisfying balance to the Farney forward play, and his partnership with McManus is fast developing into one of the best in the business.

Source: officialgaa/YouTube

“The more games you play alongside whoever it is, it’s Jack at the minute and long may that continue, but the more games you get the more opportunities you get to train with him and get better.

“Things just start to naturally happen and it naturally clicks but look it, it is in no way a finished article and we’ll have to work on it ourselves individually and as a team.

“Look it, myself and Jack are no different to the rest of them. We don’t care who does the scoring or where the scores come from as long as we have enough scores on the board at the end of the game.”

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Alan Waldron

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