Kevin McManamon: I want to be a Dublin starter
Dublin ace with bench-pressing past savours every championship chance
IT'S late May and a team that's expected to be still motoring in September will make its championship entry before a half-empty Croke Park.
Sunday's opposition are newly promoted from Division Four and their 14/1 odds won't tempt anyone outside a few blinkered Longford romantics.
This is the scenario facing Dublin and their corner-forward dynamo, Kevin McManamon. It begs the question, how do you get the motivational juices flowing for a totally unfancied minnow, having jostled with your top-flight peers, week in and week out, during spring?
"Eh, no, it's not hard at all," McManamon corrects. "I've only played six or seven championship matches as a starter for Dublin, so it's not hard at all."
Only six or seven? "That's off the top of my head. I'll tell you now, about eight maybe."
(He's not far off: we went trawling through the records and counted nine SFC starts - two in 2010, one in '11, three the next year, none in '13 and three last summer.)
And how many substitute appearances in that time? "I don't want to count them!"
Kevin McManamon with Aran Balfe Foran from Garristown at Dublin's GAA recent 'Open Night' at St Brigid's GAA Club, Russell Park
McManamon "absolutely" cherishes each and every start in Sky Blue. Moreover, the signs are he's getting closer to his goal of becoming an established first-15 man.
Last summer he started three of Dublin's five SFC fixtures, coming off the bench in the opener against Laois and that fateful end-game against Donegal. In the triumphant league campaign just gone, he started all nine matches.
"I would never have been too critical of a management decision. I understand it, I understand why I'm put there," he relates.
"Consistency was the thing for me - last summer was one of my better ones in terms of championship games. Sometimes, when they're 50-50 (decisions), I lose them because I had a bit of a name as a big sub, wherever that came from!
"I just get on with it; it's just part of being in a group and I want to start and play all of every game. For me it's about consistency and it's something I've lacked over the years. The big players on our team don't have a problem with that," he underlines. "I would have done a lot of work on it over the years. And then when it comes to reviewing games, seeing how to get me in the best mood to play well. I haven't cracked it just yet, but I'm slowly getting there."
For McManamon & Co, the aftermath of a frenetic Allianz League campaign brought with it another familiar scenario, as the world of punditry spent the pre-championship hiatus talking up Dublin's All-Ireland prospects.
"We didn't probably know how to take it (winning a third consecutive Division One crown) because there's a lot of chat. Yeah, it was great - but we've been sitting pretty before in April and the year hasn't gone well. At the end of the day, the lads are very self-aware - we know what people judge us on," the St Jude's man points out.
Still, the opportunity to unwind after a demanding nine-match league programme (plus five in the O'Byrne Cup) was welcome; likewise the chance to switch focus, even briefly, to the club.
"I actually had a week off because I got a knock in the league final," McManamon explains.
"It was very important for me because it is very intense when you're in it. The two four-month blocks if you like, if that's how long we last," he adds.
"It is nice to get away from it for a few days, go back to your clubmates and relax, somewhere where it's not as intense.
"I'd always be thinking about it, how to get better. When you come home from training, the first thing you do is prepare your gear for the next day.
"When you switch off, you nearly have to work on it. You have to say, 'I'm switching off football now'. It's never natural. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Still, McManamon has his music to facilitate the process.
"I have a few little things that I do. Meet up or go to a little sing-song somewhere. I wouldn't go to the pub close to a game, but I'd go to one of the lads' houses and play music or a few other bits.
"You do need it. We don't train every night. You have your nights off. You have to make the most of it. I like to meet friends and play music."
McManamon wasn't convinced by the "indentured slaves" debate kickstarted by Joe Brolly at the start of the year, surmising that the life of an inter-county footballer is "not that bad".
"Obviously January is pre-season - January's tough," he expands.
"I wouldn't necessarily agree with the idea that it's 'slaves' or whatever, but the year does drag a little bit. That's where the intensity gets you; it's not the intensity when you're in it, it's just the length for me."
Unlike some of his fellow forwards, McManamon has been playing virtually non-stop since the O'Byrne Cup.
"I love playing games," he says. "But when you look at the amount of weeks versus the amount of games we've played up to the league final ... you're nearly playing every weekend. Even our weekends off, we were playing with our clubs.
"But in the summer it's just so spread out - you might have three-four weeks between games. That's where you get a bit anxious."
Is that the frustrating part?
"You deal with it," he replies. "It's just a bit long - it could be tidied up and then let the club at it. The club lads can say: 'Listen, we have our time in September, October'."
This year, if the bookies are on the money, Kevin Mac will have something else to distract him come September.
Not that he would dare to look ahead that far when every championship match - and start - is precious.