Something from nothing: despite the lack of young players coming through, Seamus McEnaney has kept Monaghan as a top-10 team

Choose Monaghan. Choose Seamus McEnaney. Choose six years in charge. Choose no Ulster title, four first-round exits, no All Ireland semi-final. Choose indiscipline. Choose ugliness. Choose brutality. Choose downright filth. Choose Derry '05, Armagh '06, Fermanagh '08, Derry '09. Choose near misses. Choose heartbreak. Choose falling at the final hurdle. Choose stumbling at the crucial step. Choose bandages and blood, sweat and a trough's worth of tears. Choose being the nearly men. Choose being the nearly county.

But what if you can't choose something else?

Seamus McEnaney has been a coiled up version of himself in the lead-up to his side's championship opener, and he's never exactly been a laid back kind of guy when it comes to football. Despite everything he's achieved, all he's hearing is that it's now or never. Lose and the last six years of his life have been for nothing; win and he needs to win the next two as well to make all his efforts have any sort of value. The problem is that it's too easy to get caught up with the hard yards Monaghan still need to cover and ignore the many miles the county have already travelled under the second longest-serving manager in the country.

But sometimes you need to glance at the past to put your present predicament into perspective. Flash back to 2004, the season before McEnaney took over the side. It's 4 April and Monaghan finish their league campaign by kicking just five points in a 12-point humiliation against Offaly. They've won a paltry two games in Division Two and this in a league of two divisions.

It's 23 May and the side head up the hill to Clones to take on Armagh in a derby game that's always tight. Up until now at least. They are annihilated 2-19 to 0-10 in that Ulster opener – the biggest ever winning margin in any championship game between the two sides – and are glad they've only a short journey home where they can hide away for a few days.

It's 12 June and having finally pieced together the courage to come out again they return to the scene of the crime for the first round of the qualifiers. The draw has been kind as Longford are the sort of side that they can beat well to get their confidence back and their season back on track. Yet they ship four goals and the only positive is they don't have to come out again for the remainder of the year.

At least McEnaney made it to Croke Park. It's 26 September and Pat has asked his brother along to umpire the All Ireland final. He's the white flag man so doesn't get to wave home the Gooch's classic but there's the huge consolation of getting to witness some sublime football up close. Not many of his countymen can say that.

The Freeman brothers confirmed as much in this confession box. Damien talked about life before Banty: "You were playing and training but not having the belief that you could actually get to an Ulster final. We won the odd championship match here and there but it would just be a session really. You'd head away off on the beer after a win and that would be that. It was really ridiculous what was happening." Tommy talked about life with Banty: "The attitude is fantastic now. Players are gelling well, getting on with each other. Everybody's getting their due. Nobody's picked on the back of their name; they're picked on what they're doing at training and that's the way to have it."

They were speaking in 2007 and even if that was the peak during Banty's tenure, there haven't been all that many troughs. It took Tyrone and Kerry to bring them down that season and since then Fermanagh in Brewster Park is the only game you could point to as being a bad result. And while it's frustrating the side have no silverware to show for his time in charge, it's hardly surprising. What is is that Banty has kept the same mostly average-to-good players as a top-10 team while football's historical and population-based hierarchy is slowly restored.

Results so far this summer mean the end of the Gallagher, Cassidy and Toye generation in Donegal and the end of the Paddy Bradley, Muldoon and Doherty generation in Derry. They also mean that Monaghan are the last of the resistance but what more do people expect of a side that have only discovered Darren Hughes and Ciarán McManus in the last three years? Go back to the team that played Armagh in the 2006 Ulster replay and only James Coyle, Colm Flanagan and Raymond Ronaghan are no longer hanging about.

Contrast that with the Armagh starting line-up today of which a third come from the 2004 All Ireland under-21 champions.

It's not like Banty has missed out on players either. Ask any clubman in Monaghan and if they put their bias aside they cannot name a player that should be on the county panel but isn't. It's little surprise given the last Ulster minor success came in 1940 and the last provincial under-21 victory was in 1999, providing the current generation of ageing players. That is a testament to Banty, that a side which can't afford natural wastage and have so many miles on the clock are still going at enough of a speed to be a Division 1 side.

McEnaney may have struggled with playing resources, but he's made the most of recruitment, building up one of the best brains' trusts in the business. Already with Marty McElkennon in charge of defensive duties, the coaxing of Paul Grimley from over the border was a masterstroke. Not only has Grimley provided a freshness to a once stale and stagnant attacking strategy – one which evolved into the second-highest scoring side in the top three flights this year – but also a fresh voice in the dressing room, a place where he's become as vocal as Banty himself.

They may not win today but they'll go close against one of the best sides about. And after that, there are still no counties out there that will want to come out next to them in the qualifier draw. Despite all the miles, the near-misses and the endless hurt, they are still a whole lot better than when Banty took the role.

So choose perspective. And choose to admit it's been a job well done.