JACK MADDEN: The long goodbye

“Maybe you’re the same as me,
We see things they’ll never see.
You and I are gonna live forever.”

ABOVE are words that expel power. A vocal diffusion of greatness, that has its origins between the ears. “Achieve” is only the second step on the manual.

Noel Gallagher waited a full two years between writing “Live Forever” and sharing it with drummer Tony McCarroll. When he first put pen to paper on the track, Oasis didn’t even exist. Success swivelled from a joke, to a pipedream, and back again.

Gallagher needed his critics. Defiance is a springboard. Heroes see things they’ll never see.

Step 1: Believe.

Step 2: Achieve.

Step 3: Do whatever the hell you want, and do it all over again.

They can’t take it away from you now.

Life moves quickly, but not nearly quickly enough for those who control the hands of time.

In Monaghan, if Conor McManus didn’t do that before, he certainly does now. Turning back the clock, seizing eternity all in one swing of the boot.

Ten minutes from McManus’ homeplace, there is a flying silver pig on the side of the N2. The apparent cost was €56,000. Some folk would pay more to get a crack at taking it down. Bacon and sausages for dinner again kids.

Not too far away in Castleblayney town sits a monument of Big Tom. By Mindzenty Park, there’s a mural of the great musician Paddy Cole. A more recent edition of Monaghan legend ‘Nudie’ Hughes overlooks the smoking area of the Ballymacmanus bar.

On the walk out of the Cusack Stand on Saturday, men and women, young and old, beckoned for another one. The GAA’s latest Player of the Week. “Build the statue”, they said.

Armagh supporters couldn’t get out of there quick enough. Many were no longer buying the “poor us” excuse. Rian O’Neill’s magic slept in. McManus’s headline act hadn’t even been booked in the first place.

Even he, at some stages in 2023, surely had his doubts. A cameo off the bench in Salthill in March left us wondering if this was the end. A thought that was more saddening than defeat itself – a long, painful farewell.

We don’t deserve this. He doesn’t deserve this.

That score in Healy Park. The goal against the might of Kerry in St Tiernach’s Park. The point and the tap on Neil McGee’s chest in the Ulster final. The memories all came flooding back. All the times you stood in awe, and wondered, did you really just see what just unfolded before you?

And afterwards the shock that quickly subsided, each and every time, because the ball was in the hands of the greatest you’ve ever seen to wear the jersey, and possibly the best that will ever wear it again.

Rumours of retirement came and passed last year. The flashes of magic gradually fewer and further between. A winter of dragging yourself through the glass half-empty suffering and thinking that maybe Conor McManus was finished.

No more flashbacks, no more memories. No more days that have carried you from your childhood into your adulthood. Every Monaghan GAA moment you can possibly remember with one common denominator. A touch or two of finesse from the main man.

Maybe in the very darkest corners of his mind, Mansie had doubts over whether another year was for the best.

Or perhaps genius is unwavering on the inside too. We’ll never really know. Conor McManus’s boots do all the talking he needs.

In these parts, he genuinely is the closest thing to God. As a young fella, you might see him in the Braeside, or in Clontibret chapel, and you might as well have seen Lionel Messi.

Superstars are born, not made they say, and we’ve all seen the clips of the little boy from Rosario dribbling, dancing, and dazzling his way through crowds of dizzy peers to slot home yet another one.

For McManus, it wasn’t like that. He never was a county minor. He made his debut at wing-back. We’ve heard all the stories before. He made it his own way, and still, the stories haven’t stopped.

In the first ever Monaghan SFC shootout between Clontibret and Carrickmacross, the multiple All-Star blazed his effort over the bar.

On Saturday, his penalties rifled into either top corner suggested he never even considered doing anything else. The risk element defied so many aspects of modern football.

He’s certainly not untouchable these days. He likely won’t even start against the Dubs. He will without doubt play a role however. He will love another crack in Croker, the same venue where he kicked 0-12 against a Jim Gavin team that pipped Monaghan at the post in the league in 2016.

That was a team at the peak of their powers. This Dublin team isn’t. At least not yet anyway.

Their victory over Mayo was impressive, but typically enough it was terrible Tyrone and scintillating Dublin last weekend, in two matches that provided almost identical scorelines. The Farney challenge could hardly be much different for the Dubs than the approach of Kevin McStay’s men.

Step 1: Believe.

And now that is the challenge. It hasn’t daunted Monaghan before. In fact, it feels as though they haven’t even reached their peak this year. They will be under no illusions, next week they will absolutely have to reach it.

Inside county lines, there isn’t the exterior perception. Little old Monaghan, with their small population, small pick, limited squad etc.

Monaghan don’t need pity. Monaghan don’t need half-arse praise that more than dips its toes in the waters of belittlement. Monaghan played in the same All-Ireland Championship as Dublin, Kerry, and Derry, and they are here on merit.

Next up is the biggest challenge of them all. McManus will live forever, regardless of victory or defeat, but that attitude isn’t what spurred him on to be what he is.

Age is just a number, and Conor McManus has proven to be timeless. He’s not done just yet.

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