Few managers quite exude the same level of enthusiasm and vibrancy as Monaghan’s Seamus McEnaney.
And when the thorny issue of payment of managers is raised — as it is frequently these days — you get the distinct impression that rather than receive remuneration for what he clearly views as a labour of love this intrepid businessman would willingly part with cash to fulfil his role.
Now in his fourth year in charge and with the Ulster title remaining an elusive dream he is embarking on another championship campaign even further fuelled by his trademark vitality and optimism as he ponders Sunday’s opening confrontation against Armagh in particular.
This feel-good factor would appear to have infiltrated the entire Monaghan squad and McEnaney is in no doubt as to just where its roots lie.
“I would have to say that although we only managed to survive in Division One of the National League recently, the matches we played in that competition will stand us in excellent stead for this big test against Armagh,” insists McEnaney. “I would go so far as to say that it was Monaghan’s best league campaign for about 20 years. It was very important to the players that we retained our status and now our aim is to kick on from there.”
His team have had several weeks in which to prepare for Sunday and McEnaney has maximised the opportunity to dissect Armagh’s win over Derry, massage morale within his squad and liaise with coach Paul Grimley and trainer Martin McElkennon on the strategy that will be employed against Paddy O’Rourke’s side.
“There is no doubt that Armagh are on the crest of a wave just now,” says McEnaney.
“They have won promotion to Division One, they inflicted a first championship defeat on Derry in sixteen years at Celtic Park and they have a group of players who are now maturing rapidly alongside the older hands in the side and this will all serve to make them very formidable opponents.”
In conceding that Armagh may garner a psychological benefit of sorts from that win over Derry in the context of next Sunday’s game McEnaney balances this with the return of Gary McQuaid, Damien Freeman and Eoin Lennon to his own side — three players whom he feels can provide the experience and craft that will be necessary to counter Armagh’s game plan.
“We would never be that foolish that we would look beyond the first round of the Ulster Championship,” he says. “Having said that, this particular group of players want to be as successful as they possibly can in Ulster.”
He himself may be the very public — and hugely popular, let it said — face of Monaghan football but he is certainly far from being even a benign dictator. Indeed, he is at pains to eulogise his management team and their ongoing input into the team’s development.
“Martin McElkennon is not only a superb trainer but he has actually helped to change the mindset of the Monaghan players since 1997,” he added. “It’s not surprising that he has such a high reputation as fitness guru while Paul Grimley has definitely brought an extra dimension into our tactical blueprint this year.
“I am very fortunate to have two such talented people working alongside me along with Adrian Trappe with whom I have been associated in various capacities at club and county levels for about 12 years.”
And while he will lean largely on experience on Sunday he believes that those players who may be new to the Ulster Championship stage will replicate the form that they revealed during the National League.
“It’s great to see that we have players coming through and they will certainly complement our more experienced boys when the heat is on,” adds McEnaney. “The Championship stage is where all players really want to make their mark and I can assure you that Monaghan players are keener than most to achieve this.”