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Tuesday 11 December 2018

Mannion shutting out all the talk of five in-a-row

HERO: Dublin’s Paul Mannion with the Sam Maguire at AIG Insurance’s head office yesterday to mark Dublin’s All-Ireland win. AIG’s chosen charity for 2018, Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, also joined in the celebrations and were presented with a signed Dublin GAA jersey. Pic: Sportsfile
HERO: Dublin’s Paul Mannion with the Sam Maguire at AIG Insurance’s head office yesterday to mark Dublin’s All-Ireland win. AIG’s chosen charity for 2018, Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, also joined in the celebrations and were presented with a signed Dublin GAA jersey. Pic: Sportsfile

Paul Mannion may well be the epitome of the modern inter-county inside forward.

And as a means of distinguishing the modern inter-county inside forward from those of the recent past, the following reflection works perfectly.

"Whether I'd scored 1-3 in a game or gotten 10 tackles, it doesn't really matter to me. I'd be happy with either," Mannion shrugs, trotting out the sort of self-assessment you'd hardly have heard from 'The Gooch', Mike Frank Russell or Pádraic Joyce in their respective pomps.

Monster

As an illustration of the importance of the less traditional aspects of his broadened remit, Mannion contributed nothing to Dublin's scoring tallies in either of the 'Super 8' matches he played against Donegal or Tyrone.

Yet the prospect of him losing his place in the side was never a credible possibility, despite the live-wire presence of the prolific Cormac Costello on the Dublin bench.

BLUE STARS: Dublin footballers David Byrne, Eoin Murchan, Brian Howard, Con O’Callaghan and Cian O’Sullivan with Abbie Colfer, Kerri Behan, Senan O’Connor, Dylan Kavanagh and Mark Lee at AIG Offices. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
BLUE STARS: Dublin footballers David Byrne, Eoin Murchan, Brian Howard, Con O’Callaghan and Cian O’Sullivan with Abbie Colfer, Kerri Behan, Senan O’Connor, Dylan Kavanagh and Mark Lee at AIG Offices. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Indeed Mannion's most eye-catching contribution of the summer is probably a toss-up between his monster point from under the Hogan Stand into the Davin End early in the second half of the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway and his goal-saving tackle on Cathal McShane after an 80-yard track back in Omagh.

"I like tracking back, I like tackling. That's part of my game," he says in a very un-forward-like admission.

"It wasn't something I set out at the start of the year and said: 'this is what I want to work on'.

"Last year, 2017, was probably the best year I had and I just kind of said I didn't want it to be a once-off season.

"I wanted to follow it up with another good one.

"I don't know, it still probably wasn't my best season from a scoring perspective but I'm pleased enough."

In last year's All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, he was responsible for three clean dispossessions in the first half alone.

In this year's final, he chased Tiernan McCann down as he hared towards Stephen Cluxton early on.

As Mannion points out, Mickey Harte's team "have a lot of strike-runners from the back and a lot of dangerous threats coming from deep".

Hence his enhanced value playing against them.

"It's really important that our forwards are on top of that and that's probably why that came about," he explains.

"People who are starting games have to do some kind of donkey work at times and then the lads that are coming on are going to take it home.

"When teams are tired there's an opportunity for lads coming on to really go at teams.

"Cormac (Costello) is the perfect example of that.

"So no, I wasn't worried necessarily, that's just the role I've been playing in some games, particularly against kind of more defensive teams who like to counter-attack a lot."

It's not that Mannion doesn't value the more traditional forward output.

"I wouldn't say I'm always happy with not scoring," he admits.

"It's my first job in most games, to score and get on the scoresheet - I'm a forward.

"But if you can help the team and add to the team's performance by getting tackles and tracking back and turnovers instead then often that's just as important as scoring points.

"It's a hard thing when you've got lads like Jack McCaffrey who will come off slagging you for scoring 0-0 and getting tackles and he might have popped in with a point!

"But I'm comfortable in my own head that some days it's a different kind of task at hand."

Facilitating the attritional role is Mannion's impressively enhance physique.

When he played in his first All-Ireland final in 2013, Mannion reckons he weighed somewhere around 81 kilos.

Now, he looks like a middle-weight boxer and by his estimate is nine kilos heavier.

Repaired

In between, he took a year out from inter-county football in 2015 to study in China and travel to America and when he arrived back in 2016, he was a shell of himself.

On the occasion of his competitive return - a NFL opener against Kerry in Croke Park - Mannion repaired to the Dublin dressing-room in Croke Park and vomited into the sink.

"I kind of took it on myself to get back fitter than I had been before because I was in dreadful nick really," he recalls.

"Even the start of 2016, the first game was Kerry and I looked back at photos of that and I was so thin .... that was one of the low points when I came back and lads were flying fit and smashing weights in the gym.

"I had lost a good bit of weight after being in China and then just needed to get back and put on some weight, put on some muscle.

"I was turning 23 that year and kind of had to give it a go and get stronger."

Mannion is expected to be honoured next month with his second All Star for his contribution to winning his fourth All-Ireland medal.

Last weekend, Mick O'Dwyer predicted that not only would Mannion's great Dublin team surpass his own by winning a fifth All-Ireland in-a-row next September, they have the ability to win a sixth in succession.

Mannion however, is calmest in the centre of this storm of Dublin success.

"It's crazy, there's a lot of noise outside the dressing room," he acknowledges.

"It can be difficult to manage at times, to stay focused on the now, on the task in hand.

"I can understand people like to get a bit ahead of themselves, a bit excited.

"Particularly Dublin fans, but our goal is to try and stay focused on the task in front of us.

"But we're just focused on what's in hand ... laughing and joking and people talking about five in-a-row and all that craic.

"But we try to take it year by year.

"Look," he adds, "any season you go out and achieve everything that you set out to do is incredible.

"That's all we're trying to do.

"Same next year. Who knows where it will take us?"

'It's crazy, there's a lot of noise outside the dressing room'

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