'Paul's name is first that Jim puts down'
Former Dub star Cosgrove hails 'unbelievable' conditioning of Kilmacud clubmate Mannion
FOR those now pondering precisely what role Diarmuid Connolly could play for Dublin and what Jim Gavin's motivations are for bringing him back so late into the season, it might be instructive to examine the case of Paul Mannion in 2012.
Gavin was Dublin Under 21 manager then and possessed a side bejewelled with the sparkling talents of the previous year's minor team.
That group, despite being sickened by Tipperary in the All-Ireland final, have gone on to become the skeleton of the most successful senior team the county has ever produced.
At that time, it was difficult to categorise Mannion.
He was a ferociously quick but stoically one-footed inside forward with innate goal-scoring intelligence.
Or, as Jack McCaffrey put it last year: "he was a soccer player playing Gaelic."
Either way, he excused himself for the Dublin Under 21 panel early that year, playing no part in their four games in the Leinster SFC or a six-point All-Ireland semi-final victory over Cork in Portlaoise.
By the final against Roscommon, though, Gavin had persuaded Mannion to come back and had no hesitation in bringing him on in the second half, wherein he scored goal to cap a seven-point victory.
That was Gavin's second success as manager in three years at that level and his belief in Mannion's talent was such that he started him in an All-Ireland final as a 20-year-old with a badly damaged hamstring just over a year later.
"Paul's name is probably the first forward's name that goes down - ahead of Dean Rock or Cormac or Con," says Ray Cosgrove .
"He's probably the first name down. That wasn't the case a couple of years ago. That just shows how he's developed over the last couple of years."
In 2013, Mannion possessed nothing like the body shape or defensive technique he has now.
"Since he came back from China," says Cosgrove, identifying the end of Mannion's 2015 sojourn to the far East as the point his senior career accelerated.
"Now it took him six months to get to the pitch of it, but since he's got back, his conditioning has been unbelievable.
"He's so fine tuned at the moment.
"It's a testament to him that's he's looking after himself so well. And at the moment, he is … when Jim is sitting down to pick the team, he's the first forward named."
On Sunday in Ballybofey, Paddy McBrearty kicked the fourth of his six points with his right foot and though the level of difficulty was the lowest of his 1-6, it drew plenty of remarks for the rarity with which he shoots with his weaker side.
Mannion, though not one-footed per se, takes a higher percentage number of shots with the same foot than any of the other Dublin forwards.
Yet the speed with which he can turn on to that side to get a shot away prevents markers from making a block.
"He's lightning fast," Cosgrove notes.
"But also it's his speed of thought. Once he gets ball into hand, he knows he's going to turn on to his left or his right or what he needs to do to get a shot off.
"Yes, he does like to turn on to his left. But he has good hands. And he gets into good positions where he's receiving a ball where he can get a shot off in a split second.
"He always seems to have that extra yard of space to pull the trigger. Or he's never at a narrow angle. He's always giving himself a higher percentage shot to convert."
"If you look at him throughout the League," Cosgrove goes on, "there were a couple of scores he kicked, it was Stephen O'Neill stuff. His shot-to-score efficiency is massive. I can't remember the last time he hit a Hail Mary or took a really bad option."
Such efficiency is partly why Mannion was the only forward to be named on the last two All Star teams.
Last autumn, he spear-headed Kilmacud Crokes' county Championship victory as well whilst battling a nagging hamstring problem.
"He probably carried the club single-handed last year through the Dublin Championship," Cosgrove notes.
"And, unfortunately, he had a below-par game in the Mullinalaghta match but the injury was at him.
"And when Paul didn't perform, Kilmacud lost," he adds. "That was the short and the long of it.
"I just hope he stays injury-free.
"He's had some problems over the years with his hammer. So I hope they can make sure he's fresh for all the really big games now."