In this week’s My Club and I, we speak to Monaghan’s All Star forward Conor McManus about his club Clontibret O'Neills.
By Brian Murphy
Clontibret is a small village with a population of just over 300 near the border with Co. Armagh. Situated on the main N2 road linking Dublin and Derry, Clontibret is five miles from the towns of Monaghan to the north and Castleblayney to the south.
Clontibret O'Neills, named after the second Earl of Tyrone Hugh O’Neill, is one of three clubs in the wider parish of Clontibret, along with Cremartin and Doohamlet.
Founded in 1913, Clontibret O'Neills CLG celebrated their centenary year last year. To mark this important milestone, Conor's father, Frank, is currently writing a book chronicling the history of the club.
With 16 Monaghan Senior Football Championship titles, Clontibret are the second most successful club in the county. With McManus playing an instrumental role, Clontibret enjoyed an unprecedented run of success between 2006 and 2010, winning four county titles in five years.
Along with Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey and Conor Boyle, McManus is one of four Clontibret players in the Monaghan squad that will contest the Allianz Football League Division II final against Donegal in Croke Park next Sunday.
Tell us a little about the area where the club draws its players from…
We’re five miles outside Monaghan town and five miles outside Castleblaney. We’re right on the main road so it’s not exactly rural but it’s a tight-knit community. It’s fairly small. Clontibret parish would be maybe the second or third biggest parish in the county, but there are three clubs in the parish – us, Cremartin and Doohamlet so we are working off a fairly small pick. There is one small primary school with 120 kids so it is a relatively pool that we are pulling from so to be competing as we have been in recent years is a decent achievement.
Have you any family members involved in the club at the moment?
It’s funny because my father, Frank, is in the middle of writing a book all about the club to commemorate the 100-year anniversary last year. He was treasurer for eight or nine years and has been secretary this past 15 or 16 years. He’s about the club a long time – there’s a couple of them, himself and Colm Gormley the chairman especially, so it’s a bit like an institution there at this stage.
Colours: Saffron and White
Grounds: Pairc Ui Neill
Honours: 16 Monaghan SFC
For the book, my father has been piecing together old clips from newspapers, going to see older people from past generations and getting bits and pieces of information from them to try and pull past championship winning teams and things like that together. He’s been speaking to people from the club who would have represented Monaghan and Ulster down through the years as well.
I also have two older sisters and they would have played with a combination ladies football team in the parish and my father would have been managing. My sister, Kathy, is the PRO in the club as well so we all like to get involved.
What are your first memories of the club?
I used to be down at senior training kicking about and kicking the balls back to the players when I was six or seven years of age. When you are that age you know no different. Your club is your club and you spend hours down there, be it at your own training or down watching other teams training. Now I see the same thing – other young lads of that age kicking the balls back to us so it goes full circle all the time.
Given your commitments with Monaghan, do you have to make an extra effort to get down to the club these days?
You certainly do. I was off last week so I went down there last Tuesday night watching the minors in their first game of the league. I was off again on Thursday night and I managed to get down to see the U16s in their second game of the league. Any time you get a chance, you always like to see what’s coming up through he ranks. It’s always nice to keep an eye on the younger teams.
Are there other Clontibret men involved with you in the Monaghan set-up at the moment?
There's Dessie Mone, Vinny Corey and Conor Boyle, who is one of the up and coming lads brought in this year and is on the county U21 team as well. We have always been fairly well represented down through the years.
We would also have had John Paul Mone, who was there for a long time as well. When I was younger, John Paul was the man I would have idolised. As it turned out I won four or five Monaghan Championships with him so I suppose that tells you all you need to know about the club – at 12 years of age you are idolising someone on the senior team and then five or six years later you are playing and winning with them. It’s fairly special when you think about it like that.
Looking back further you have players like John Murray, Pat Rice and Benny Mone that would have represented Monaghan and Ulster. We have always been fairly well recognised within the county and the province.
What are the facilities like at the club?
We have a training pitch and a main pitch (Páirc Uí Néill), which would have been a county ground maybe six or seven years ago. It hasn’t got any county games this while now. We’ve plans in place to extend into an adjacent field which we bought towards the end of last year. The plan is to get another full pitch in there and an astro turf pitch in and to upgrade the whole facility. The facilities would have been above and beyond what a lot of clubs would have had 10 to 15 years ago but now since every other club has moved on we feel the need to upgrade again.
(Photo: The front gates of Clontibret's grounds Páirc Uí Néill. Photo courtesy of Clontibret O'Neills CLG.)
Do you recall your first ever game for the club’s senior football team?
My first game was back in 2005. I was still a minor, 17. I would have played a few bits and pieces in league games but the one that sticks out is coming on as a sub in the senior league final in 2005 against Scotstown. I came on with 10 or 15 minutes to go and it was the first trophy I won with the seniors. I wouldn’t have been too big at the time and it took me a while to develop. I think I got my hands on the ball and managed to set up a point towards the end. You will always remember your first outing.
Tell us a little about the run of success you enjoyed with the senior team in the following years...
That team went on to have great success, winning the Monaghan Senior Football Championship in 2006 and ’07 and again in 2009 and 2010. There was a good group of players for a long time.
I was 18 when we won the first one in 2006 and played wing-forward on the team. We beat Magheracloone in the final by 1-8 to 0-8 and it was a special occasion because Clontibret hadn’t won the title before that since 2002. It was a young team with seven or eight lads still U21. We had won three minor championships from 2000 to 2002 before that and an Ulster minor so you could see the progress of those players coming through. It was a great combination of those young boys and a few of the older heads who had been hanging around for a few years and hadn’t enjoyed the success.
What's been the highlight or the stand-out moment of your club career to date?
You could probably pick any of the county finals. The first championship we won in 2006 was special because a group of young players came through together and finally made a breakthrough. I think we had a good run at it that year and won the league and championship double. The following year we were expected to win and when you deliver when you are expected to it’s fairly nice too.
We won the championship in 2007 and ’09 as well and again in 2010. In 2009, particularly, we had been beaten the previous year in the semi-final, caught by a late goal again, and we were hurting. To come back and win it in 2009, to come back and say ‘we’re not going away’ was sweet. The county final that day was a special day, beating one of our biggest rivals (Latton) and personally it was a good day for me (Conor scored 1-9).
(Photo: September 27, 2009; Clontibret celebrate at the end of the game. Monaghan County Senior Football Final, Clontibret v Latton, St. Tighearnach's Park, Clones, Co. Monaghan).
Has the club made an effort to recognise your achievements with Monaghan, Ulster and Ireland?
Two or three weeks the club had a night on for player of the year awards and other bits and pieces, and myself, Vinny (Corey) and Dessie (Mone) were there and they presented us with a commemorative thing for the Ulster title. We had two lads on the Monaghan minor team that won the Ulster minor title on the same day so they recognised that as well. The club is very good to us and I suppose we always try to give back. At the end of the day, you start at the club and you finish at the club so it’s always nice to give back. The people of Clontibret are also very proud of any players that go on to represent their county, province or country.
(Photo: November 8, 2013; Conor McManus with his 2013 GAA GPA All-Star award, sponsored by Opel, at the 2013 GAA GPA All-Star awards in Croke Park)
What’s the most you have ever scored in a game at any level for the club?
I scored 16 points in a league semi-final one day two years ago, but we actually ended up getting beaten. I think Magheracloone scored a goal with the last kick of the game to beat us. There were plenty of frees in there and I’d say maybe six came from play. I think it might have been the week just after a county final and the preparation might not have been ideal for it.