McManus ea­ger to ban­ish the worst feel­ing of his ca­reer


MOTHER­WELL de­fender Stephen McManus, at 34 years of age and with over 350 se­nior ap­pear­ances un­der his belt, felt that he had ex­pe­ri­enced ev­ery emo­tion that the game could throw at him.

Then, last Satur­day, he at­tempted an ill-judged pass into the mid­field at Ibrox with the scores locked level and the clock tick­ing into the dy­ing mo­ments of an en­ergy-sap­ping Scot­tish Cup tie.

Sec­onds later, the ball was set­tling in the back of the net be­hind him, and with it went all of the ef­fort the Steel­men had put into a week of metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion and 90 min­utes of drain­ing toil.

Mother­well’s dreams of cup glory slipped out of their grasp for yet an­other year, and the feel­ing in the pit of McManus’s stom­ach as those stark facts hit home is one he will not likely for­get in a hurry.

In fact, the feel­ing of de­spair as he faced up to his cul­pa­bil­ity sur­passed any of the lows he has en­coun­tered in his 14 years as a pro­fes­sional. “For me, that’s the worst I’ve ever felt after a game,” McManus said. “At 34 you think you’ve seen and felt pretty much ev­ery­thing but I was dev­as­tated on Satur­day and Sun­day. 100 per cent that was the worst I’ve felt, there was no doubt.

”I thought we played re­ally well all the way through the game and thor­oughly de­served to be in the lead. When you get so close, after play­ing so well, not just me in­di­vid­u­ally but col­lec­tively as a group, for the play­ers, the fans, the man­age­ment staff, you’re gut­ted.

“I couldn’t sleep on Satur­day and when I did wake up on Sun­day I was hop­ing it was go­ing to be the 85th minute of the game but it wasn’t.”

In­deed, foot­ball can move in mys­te­ri­ous ways. McManus’s first shot at re­demp­tion comes against the same op­po­nents when Mother­well take on Rangers at lunchtime to­day.

He is re­ly­ing on the men­tal strength he has built up over his long ca­reer to see him through. “The big thing for me was I wanted to get back into train­ing on Mon­day,” he said.

“I don’t train nor­mally on a Mon­day just to give my­self an ex­tra day for my body to re­cover, but I wanted to get back onto the pitch to try to erad­i­cate it. I’ve played in a lot of games now for Mother­well, I can’t re­mem­ber mak­ing a mis­take like that be­fore. I’ve got to this stage in my ca­reer by be­ing men­tally strong and do­ing what I need to do to per­form the next week on the Satur­day. There were so many pos­i­tives for us to take through­out the game and that’s what we’re try­ing to fo­cus on.”

Rangers may look to tar­get McManus early on in Satur­day’s game to test his con­fi­dence fol­low­ing last week’s huge dis­ap­point­ment. But the de­fender sees ar­eas where the home side can ex­ploit their vis­i­tors to­day, with prepa­ra­tions just as thor­ough as for last week’s cup game.

“Ev­ery team has strengths and weak­nesses,” he said. “Rangers are the same.

“We will sit down and an­a­lyse it with the man­ager and coach­ing staff in video ses­sions. That’s how the game has evolved. I can’t re­mem­ber do­ing too many of them with Martin O’Neill. It was a case of get the ball to Hen­rik!”

McManus, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly given the way last week’s match un­folded, has pin­pointed Kenny Miller as the main dan­ger to his side to­day, and he claims he is a bet­ter player now at the age of 37 than he was 10 years ago when the pair played to­gether at Celtic.

McManus is full of ad­mi­ra­tion for his old friend, and knows he will have his hands full again to­day.

“No ques­tion [he is bet­ter now], his all-round game has im­proved,” he said. “He can come short or go in be­hind.He is an in­tel­li­gent player.

“If you are go­ing be­yond your mid-30s and still play­ing at that level then it is some­thing. Peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate that if they have not been in­volved in foot­ball at that level.

“He is a credit to him­self in terms of how he has looked after him­self.

“He is look­ing as fit and sharp as he has ever done and he is a big, big player for Rangers.

“You look at the im­por­tance of his goals. At 37, he is their main threat.”

Mean­while, Mother­well have com­pleted the loan sign­ing of goal­keeper Richard Grif­fiths from Ever­ton after back-up keeper Dean Brill left the club, while young striker Dy­lan Mackin has joined Al­loa on a de­vel­op­ment loan.

At 34 you think you’ve seen and felt pretty much ev­ery­thing but I was dev­as­tated on Satur­day and Sun­day. We will sit down and an­a­lyse it . . .

SINK­ING FEEL­ING: Stephen McManus rues his mis­take against Rangers

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