The county exited the championship cheaply at the hands of Longford in the qualifiers although the magnitude of their Ulster semi-final bouts against Donegal, especially the replay defeat just a week earlier, had taxed them.
Malachy O’Rourke has chosen to stick around but without the veterans Clerkin and Finlay. McManus says the slack in leadership has to be picked up by the younger members of the panel.
“When you lose two players of the calibre of Paul Finlay and Dick Clerkin, given the service that they’ve given to Monaghan and the experience that them pair of boys had over 15, 16, 17, 18 years, whatever it was between the two of them. There’s no doubt that they’ll be a loss in the dressing room.
“They weren’t maybe starting or having the same impact on the field as they would have had over the years, but to not have them in the dressing room and leaders, young players coming in looking up to them, it’s certainly a blow. But, look it, Monaghan football’s in a good place at the minute. We’d be hoping that a number of the young fellas would come in and step up to the plate.
“There’s a lot of them boys have got game-time, particularly in the championship. We had a lot of young lads that played U21s and things like that. They have a year’s experience under their belt now and we’ll all have to stand on our own two feet now.
“You can’t be relying on older players. There’s maybe a sense of comfort in them being there but that’s gone now.
“It’s sink or swim for the players now but I have no doubt that we have young players there that will step up.”
McManus is keeping his fingers crossed others don’t follow the examples of Clerkin and Finlay. “I’d be hopeful that that would be the end of it. We’ve a couple of older players that have been involved this year that aren’t back in with Monaghan yet – the likes of Vinny (Corey) and Dessie (Mone) and Stephen Gollogly and a few boys like that. But you’d be hopeful that those boys will all be there next year.”
O’Rourke’s decision to remain on until 2019 was a massive fillip for the county and McManus never had any concern he would depart in the wake of that loss to Longford.
“Well, I don’t think he was ever going to, but I suppose after a day like that — not just for Malachy but for everybody — you’re questioning things.
“You’re thinking ‘Jesus, the amount of time and effort we’ve put into this, and we turn out a performance like that.’
“That was probably the most disappointing thing, and it takes a couple of weeks to get over that initial disappointment.
“And then, when you sit and look at it in the cold light of day, you realise there’s things we can do better and improvements we can make. I suppose if Malachy didn’t feel that was the case, maybe he wouldn’t have stayed on. But I don’t think it was ever a case that Malachy was going to walk away. Like everybody else, he probably just needed time to gather his thoughts and clear his head.”
If McManus’ fellow Monaghan man, GAA director general Páraic Duffy, has his way 2017 will be the last year of the All-Ireland quarter-finals. An All-Ireland semi-final remains out of the current Farney crop’s reach and having to play an extra two matches to reach that milestone might make their task more onerous, but McManus views things differently.
“The only thing is it gets you more games and at that stage of the summer players want to be playing football. People are arguing that it aids the stronger teams but if you’re getting three games up there (at last eight stage) and you don’t progress, well you only really have yourself to blame. It’s something that could work well, and games at that stage of the year is what everybody wants.”
- McManus was speaking as the 2015 and 2016 Opel GAA-GPA All-Stars headed out to UAE from Dublin Airport yesterday. Tipperary manager Liam Kearns and Tyrone boss Mickey Harte will take charge of the teams in tomorrow’s exhibition match in Abu Dhabi.