Conor McManus: Ulster title only a stepping stone for Monaghan

For all the hurdles they’ve got over and boxes they’ve ticked in the last two and a half seasons, something massive still eludes Monaghan.

A win in an All-Ireland SFC quarter-final is the obvious target for them now, after capturing a second Ulster title in three years against Donegal on Sunday.

That next step has proven to be insurmountable so far, surrendering a winning position against Tyrone in 2013 and then suffering a 17-point demolition by Dublin last year, unable to do themselves justice just a week after an extra-time qualifier win over Kildare. They were never going to be content to just slope off into the sunset with one Ulster and this Monaghan outfit are hungry to hit new targets and keep raising the bar.

“There are people who say we took our eye off the ball the last time when we won the Ulster championship, but I know we didn’t,” insisted captain Conor McManus.

“We were just unfortunate we didn’t get over the line (against Tyrone) but we will be leaving nothing to chance this time.

“It is great to win another Ulster but we will be blocking it out after a day or two and starting to get ready for the next game.”

2013 was all about ending a 25-year wait for an Ulster title and last year they ended a 26-year wait for a championship win over Tyrone.

Although they failed to defend their Ulster crown against Donegal, they achieved another first with a long overdue first championship win in Croke Park in decades.

There is every chance it could be old foes Tyrone who await them in the last eight once again, and Dessie Mone admits a quarter-final win — regardless of the opposition — is looming large on their radar.

“There’s no point saying it’s not. We didn’t play well in the last two years at the quarter-final stages, we know that.

“We have put ourselves in that position again. We got ourselves into Division One and now we have to be consistent by winning these types of games.

“You can’t be just winning one Ulster title and then going away... that’s not what the type of players that we are.

“I know the boys we have want success, they want more medals. We got a taste of it in 2013 and we wanted more. We’ll not want to stop at this.”

Full-forward Kieran Hughes claimed defeat in another Ulster final was not an option for some of the older Monaghan players.

“It makes it sweeter, big-time, to win by a point. I have lost a lot of finals by a point and it’s not nice.

“For some of the boys, that was their fifth Ulster final and if we’d lost, they’d have had a record of one out of five.

“It was my fourth final, and one out of four doesn’t sound too great either.

“I wouldn’t have been happy, so I wanted to make sure I was here to win, rather than just being happy to take part, which is how it was in 2010 when Tyrone were big dogs back then.”

No Monaghan player made a bigger sacrifice to play in Sunday’s final than 34-year-old midfielder Owen Lennon, who got married on Friday.

McManus revealed: “We were all at it but we skipped off home at nine o clock, and Owen went home early on the night of his wedding. That’s the level of dedication you are talking about with that man. He owes Monaghan football nothing and has fought back from serious injury and it’s great to see him getting his rewards.”

Meanwhile, Karl Lacey looks unlikely to feature in Donegal’s Round 4B qualifier against Galway in Croke Park next weekend after picking up a knee injury. Rory Gallagher revealed the four-time All Star suffered the injury in the first half at Clones, and limped off after 40 minutes of Sunday’s final.

“We had an idea that Karl was struggling, he got a bang in his knee and he was worried about it at half time,” said the Donegal manager.

“It might be ligament damage but I don’t think it is overly serious.”

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