By Kevin Egan for gaa.ie
On four separate occasions during his commentary on the Connacht football final, Ger Canning told the nation that Roscommon defender John McManus “was the son of Roscommon footballing legend Tony McManus”.
Admittedly, when your father has won six Connacht Senior medals, seven Connacht Senior Club Championships, one National League title, one All-Ireland under-21 title, three Sigerson Cup medals and one All Star award, stepping out of that shadow can be difficult.
Since that clash, however, John certainly hasn’t wanted for any recognition or acknowledgement, even though he was keen to get straight back down to preparations after their big win at Salthill.
“I work on Main Street in Roscommon town and I had so many people coming into me a week or so after the Connacht final asking me, ‘Have you stopped celebrating yet?’” he remarked with a grin.
“I’m saying we were back to base two days afterwards and very much focused on the next stage,” he added.
“Winning the Connacht title was enjoyable at the time but we can celebrate that a bit more when the year is out. The team is very ambitious and focused. There’s no such thing as saying that this is bonus territory for us, we want to keep going further. We will be very disappointed at whatever stage we get knocked out of the Championship. We won’t be falling back and saying, ‘Ah sure, we won the Connacht final,’ we’re just mad to progress even further”.
For generations of Roscommon teams, clashes with Mayo were a formidable challenge that often proved to be too severe a test. Many supporters sensed an inevitability about the results last weekend, feeling that Mayo were destined to stand in their way at some time. However McManus didn’t fall into the category, as his own experiences playing Mayo were very different.
“There was always been this talk about all the Roscommon teams that had done well underage, but the best thing we’ve taken from those underage days is that we’re used to beating the big teams and we’re used to getting to the latter end of the Championship. I know it’s a different kettle of fish in senior football but the mindset is still the same,” he asserted.
“I wouldn’t have any fear of going out and playing Mayo because I’ve played them at underage and we’ve beaten them. We feel we’re capable of beating the top teams.
A lot of people would have predicted Mayo to beat Cork, but I expected Cork to give them the game they did. I actually preferred not knowing our opponents because when you go out training you are focused on yourself, and you’re not concentrating on anyone else.
“Sometimes you can know who you are playing months in advance and you forget about planning for your own game. It’s been enjoyable to be able to go out and train without planning on how to counteract another team’s tactics”.
Now that he knows it’s Mayo up first, McManus believes that the early stages of the contest will be critical to Roscommon’s chances.
“A good start is important, especially going in against a team who are raging hot favourites. If we get a good start it switches the momentum totally in your favour. Mayo will think they can steamroll us because of the way their games against Roscommon have gone in the last few years.
“They’ll expect that if they get a good start they’ll ease through the game and win it comfortably. It’s on a switch then — if we can get a good early start, it’ll plant doubt in their minds”.
Mentally, the newly-crowned Connacht champions couldn’t be in a better place. The doubts that crept in after a disappointing League campaign have been swept away, while this young group has responded extremely well to the management team of Liam McHale, Ger Dowd and Kevin McStay.
“After last year’s Championship and then during the League you could feel this negativity. It’s hard to blame the fans — all they see is defeat and they can’t see what is going on at training and how we’re getting on inside the camp. We were always confident,” he told GAA.ie.
“There is some difference between a negative mood in the county and the positive mood that’s there now. The fans make a massive difference. We knew that if we got the fans behind us in the Connacht final it would make a difference — and it did. We just feed off that positive energy.
“You could see the joy and excitement after the Connacht final. Wherever you are in Roscommon you’re meeting people and they’re wishing you luck and congratulating you. We know they’re going to be in Croke Park supporting us and hopefully they will be a 16th man for us on the day.”