The impression of Monaghan ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Tyrone is certainly one of a side well past its sell-by-date but forward Conor McManus doesn’t go along with the consensus that the county’s best chance of silverware lies behind them.
“Maybe seven or eight years ago Monaghan football wasn’t in a very good place but I think being up here and playing along with these Tyrone boys and Down boys and so on, you know you are every bit as good as them,” says McManus.
“When you are playing with them, you see that. It helps you playing along with these players from different counties. I don’t think it is a case of us missing the boat. It’s just when you are up there competing with the best of teams you have to make your chances count.”
That is one thing Monaghan failed to do last summer when, having defeated Armagh and Fermanagh by an average of nine and a half points en route to the provincial final, they lost to Tyrone by 10 in front of a packed crowd at Belfast’s Casement Park.
The qualifiers awaited but McEnaney’s Monaghan had run their last race.
“The way we had been going it sort of knocked the stuffing out of us, especially the way we played that day more than anything else. Then we had to go out and try regroup to play against Kildare six days later.
“I suppose that’s something maybe the GAA could look at. We obviously couldn’t take it on and got well beaten.”
Ten months on and it is Mickey Harte’s Tyrone who again stand astride their pathway to their promised land. Tyrone are another side who know what it is to grow old together but Monaghan have finally turned to a younger generation.
It has been a case of having to.Tommy Freeman is in America, Damien Freeman is at home but not on the panel. Neither are JP Mone and Gary McQuaid, while the versatile Vinny Corey is out injured for Sunday’s journey to Omagh.
Losses all, but if one ranks above the others, it is probably Tommy Freeman, whose finest year with the county was arguably 2007 when they lost another Ulster decider to Tyrone by two points before falling just short against Kerry in an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Like so many other Irish men and women, the Magheracloone forward has been forced from home by the economic winter that first began to grip the country around about the time he was rubbing shoulders with Pat O’Shea’s Kerry in Croke Park.
“It is an unfortunate scenario,” said McManus. “Tommy won an All-Star in 2007 and you’d imagine a player of his calibre would be able to find work closer to home than America but that’s how it is. You can’t blame him, he’s got a house and a wife and everything else to support. If the work is not there you have to go where the work is. Players like Tommy and Damien don’t come along every year, especially for a county like Monaghan. They are going to be a loss but as unfortunate as it is, we have to soldier on.”