Monaghan’s Conor McManus reflective after a ‘crazy time’ off the pitch

34-year-old reflects on business, football and his panel being caught training in the Spring

Conor McManus is currently recovering from a broken hand. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Conor McManus is currently recovering from a broken hand. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Conor McManus is a smart man, a successful auctioneer and a triple All Star footballer, yet even he doesn’t possess the vocabulary to do justice to a truly strange year with Monaghan.

Eventually, he settles upon the words surreal, mad, crazy and challenging to describe a few months when misery, mayhem, insult, injury and, briefly, euphoria all touched the Monaghan panel.

The crazy bit? Being dobbed in for training back in Spring. A dossier containing footage and images of the Monaghan players engaged in a collective session in Corduff was submitted to, among others, the Department of Justice. Manager Seamus McEnaney would later serve a 12-week suspension for convening a session that contravened the GAA’s Covid-19 regulations and Monaghan also lost home advantage for their first National League game.

“Every team in the country was probably training, we were one of the teams that got caught,” reflected McManus, speaking at an Imagine Broadband promotion to highlight the company’s support of the national broadband plan. “I think when you look back on it now, it highlights how mad the whole situation was and 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 and we’ll look back and say it was just a mad, crazy time, you know?

“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 moreso just how crazy a time we were in.

Conor McManus’s injury sustained against Fermanagh in July wasn’t as serious as first feared. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Conor McManus’s injury sustained against Fermanagh in July wasn’t as serious as first feared. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

“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 see what has followed since that, we’ve been fit to play a full championship and we’ve had crowds back out and everything else.”

Having broken the training ban, like Dublin, Cork and Down who were also punished, there were plenty of insults thrown Monaghan’s way while injury, for McManus personally, came when he left Clones on crutches after their Ulster quarter-final win over Fermanagh.

A knee issue turned out to be less serious than initially feared and he went on to line out against Armagh and then Tyrone in the Ulster final at Croke Park. Throw in the joy they experienced after their extra-time epic win over Galway in Clones, a result that secured their Division 1 status, and you can chalk it down as a good year overall for Monaghan, on the field at least.

Regret

Away from the pitch, sadness and regret was rarely too far away. In the press conference immediately after the one-point Ulster final loss, boss McEnaney choked back tears as he talked about the deaths of Brendan Óg Ó Dufaigh, the county’s Under-20 captain, and Philip Traynor, a long-time Monaghan sponsor. Forget about Covid regulations, that’s when things were truly challenging for everyone associated with Monaghan GAA.

It’s been a testing time for McManus personally too having acquired the franchise for an auctioneering business in Monaghan town in late 2018.

“Whenever I was taking over the business you had a contingency plan for a lot of things, taking over staff, taking over a new business, trying to keep clients happy but closing down for six or eight months wasn’t part of it,” he said.

At times, he wondered if ambition had got the better of him.

“Yeah, definitely,” shrugged the 34-year-old. “It’s only natural that you would think that when your business is closed down and you’re not allowed work. You’re trying to keep the business afloat and it certainly wasn’t easy. It’s done now. We’ve all come through it and hopefully if you can navigate your way through that, you can navigate your way through most things from here on in.”

Despite his advancing age and a dodgy hip that needs regular TLC - he says there are “days when you’re very much on top of it and then there’s days when you just think, ‘Jesus, this thing has me beat here’” - he’s committed to playing on with Monaghan in 2022. So are Darren Hughes and Karl O’Connell.

But just to remind him that any journey from A to B is rarely straightforward as a Monaghan player, Mother Nature threw McManus another curveball last weekend.

“I managed to break my hand in three places,” said the Clontibret man, who wore a chunky cast on his hand during yesterday’s round of interviews.

“It’s 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. I would say I’m looking at the standard four to six weeks. It happened in a league final last weekend, last Friday night, typical that it happens in the final game of the year.”

Typical of a year less ordinary.

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