Thursday 27 October 2016

Mac's goal to start at the finish

No longer the super-sub, Dubs dynamo has earned his jersey

Kevin McManamon, Dublin, in action against Ryan McHugh, Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile
Kevin McManamon, Dublin, in action against Ryan McHugh, Donegal. Photo: Sportsfile

Back in January, Kevin McManamon spelled it out clearly: his personal goal, for 2016, was to be in the All-Ireland final parade in September.

In other words, to shed the 'super-sub' label that has followed his entire career in Sky Blue ... and to become a nailed-on starter on a Dublin team that goes the distance.

It's the end of August and Kevin Mac is on target.

It's a measure of the player's consistent form graph this summer that there has been little talk, in this of all weeks, of his impact-sub past against Kerry. Given his profoundly positive impact against Westmeath and Donegal, the presumption is that Sunday's All-Ireland SFC semi-final against the Kingdom will mark his fifth consecutive championship start.

And as McManamon admitted at this year's Allianz Football League launch: "It's a big bullseye for me. I want to do something that I've never done before and that's be a big player for 70 minutes, rather than what I've become accustomed to or what management have decided for me."


The solution, he surmised, was "down to my application and down to me playing well in training in August and September, which I haven't done in years. Sometimes it's a bit lazy to say - the reason he is not starting me is because I make an impact (off the bench). That's not the case; I feel like I'm in control of it."

Mick Bohan was part of Jim Gavin's coaching team in 2013 and '14. He witnessed, up close and personal, McManamon's ceaseless dedication to self-improvement. He's not surprised that the St Jude's clubman has become a main player.

"His progression as a footballer has been a complete upward spiral," says the current Clare coach. "My time involved with him, he was one of the three that I picked out that just went after absolutely everything you could offer him to try and make himself better.

"I look at him now - I just enjoy watching him play. He has a low trajectory. Such fantastic balance carrying the ball. He's almost on an equilibrium on two feet ... he's scored big scores in games off both feet.

"And Kerry - these are the games he just comes alive in. I mean, we all marvel at the likes of Connolly and Bernard; but this fella is in the same league. And he's been Mr Consistent, in a quieter type of way, but the day you don't have him either to start or to bring him is the day you'll really miss him."


His reputation as Dublin's uber super-sub will be associated forever with his game-breaking goals to beat Kerry in the 2011 All-Ireland final and the 2013 semi-final.

"We knew he was quite likely to come in," says Ger O'Keeffe, a selector under Jack O'Connor in '11. "But unfortunately the best-made plans on the day didn't work out."

O'Keeffe considers the Dublin dynamo's bulldozing strength and low centre of gravity and draws comparison with his own former teammate, the legendary John Egan.

He reckons opponents have come to the conclusion that you can't take on McManamon by trying to outmuscle him.

"You have to try and run with him and force him to make a mistake or force him out. You can't physically try to take the ball off him when he's in movement, because he'll knock you off your stride and pass you by ... take him on physically and you'll find yourself sitting on your backside."

All very true; yet Bohan was even more won over by the player's skill-set and constant devotion to enhancing it. The Clontarf man harks back to the one-on-two sessions he would have with McManamon and Eoghan O'Gara, who was coming back from injury at the time.

He marvelled at "the level of intensity" generated by the duo as they engaged in shooting exercises and other skill drills; how they constantly talked their way through the sessions, seeking to fine-tune their technique.

And yet, back then, when it came to the business end of summer, he wasn't making the parade.

"You can forget this crap of any player being happy to be on the subs bench. I don't think they exist," Bohan corrects. "You'd be talking to Kevin after, and him being dreadfully disappointed. But there's nearly a harder edge to your game as a result of that. You have to be a tough individual to take those blows - and they were blows, time and again.

"He wanted to be on that field from the start. And I'm not necessarily sure that it was the right thing, because he did start National League games where we never got the same impact out of him."


Whereas now? "I see Kevin to be a much more consistent performer," says Bohan. "He was coming into games and he was continuous movement for those 25 minutes; you nearly get to a stage whereby, regardless of what happens, you'd say 'We can't do without that' ...

"But the panel has evolved and other players are becoming that impact sub off the bench. He's getting more consistency off guys who are coming in and clipping points - not to the same level of what Kevin Mac does.

"Those goals in 2011 and 2013 are what stand him ahead," he concludes. "But at the end of the day, I do see a more mature footballer, a guy who is managing his game a lot better."

And a guy who strikes fear into Kerry hearts ...

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