The dream life of Ryan
QPR star Manning has international ambition after taking big chance
At times, Ryan Manning wonders what life would be like if things has taken a different turn.
For the 20-year-old, in his career as a first-team player with QPR, Friday night equals an early night, getting ready for the big day tomorrow. This weekend that means a jaunt to Yorkshire tomorrow and a game away to Leeds United, so he'll spend the day playing in front of up 30,000 paying punters at Elland Road.
But with a slightly different path in his career, he'd be an ordinary student, back home in Ireland, wondering what larks this weekend will bring.
A mere mention of 'Donegal Tuesday' and the utter debauchery attached to that event in his native city makes the Galway boy smile.
"There are times when you are sitting at home on a Friday night, getting ready for the game the next day and you get the messages from the lads who are all out on the town," says Manning.
"And you think, maybe for a second, 'I'd love to be out with them'. But then I think that I wouldn't swap this for anything, playing in front of 15,000 people at the weekend. I have no desire to be anywhere else."
Manning is in a good place now, no time for regrets. Out in the cold for a long spell at QPR, a place he had found at times frustrating since his 2015 move from Galway United, new manager Ian Holloway saw something special in the untested Irish lad, threw him in for his debut on New Year's Day and has been rewarded with a dozen top-class displays.
Holloway simply adores his Irish player and the QPR fans, a club with a well-established Irish heritage, have truly warmed to a player who may, in time, rival Seamus Coleman as a 'bargain buy'.
For now, international recognition means a first-ever call-up to the Ireland U21 squad, for a Euro qualifier against Kosovo in two weeks' time (though Manning's exclusion from previous U21 panels is a sore point).
Long term, the dream is to join the likes of David Forde and Greg Cunningham in the small club of Galway boys who have won senior caps, and while making the squad for the 2018 World Cup seems a long way off, Manning is encouraged by the fact that even three months ago, a place in the QPR first team looked to be so distant it was painful to think of.
But it could all have been so different. While many players fill their heads with dreams of football glory, he filled his head with what he took from the books and he could even have been on his way to college, as he'd done well enough in his Leaving Cert to get a place on a Physio course in UCD.
"I deferred it for a year but never got back to it," he told The Herald in London yesterday, making it clear that education was part of the deal that got him to the Championship.
"Growing up there was talk about me going away and I always wanted to go to England but my mum always said I had to get my Leaving first," he says.
"So I knew going into secondary school that I had to do my Leaving and once I had that, I could take a year off from going to college so I could focus on football and try to get to England, I knew that if I didn't get to England, if that didn't work out, I'd have a Leaving Cert to fall back on and go to college.
"It was my parents stressing the education at first. I was a 16-year-old kid with the chance to leave school and go off to play football, but my mum and dad said no.
"As I got older I definitely felt the same way myself, just to have a back-up plan. Hopefully I will never need to use it but it is there. Whatever happens now they can't take those points off me,
"Staying at home and going over at 18, with a back-up plan, was ideal for me and helped me, it meant I could focus on football when I was over here instead of worrying about what'd happen if it didn't work out. Coming over at 18 with a Leaving Cert I was ready, more mature, ready to go and make the most of it."
He was also more sturdy, having played first team football for Mervue United in the League of Ireland at 16. A debut in Athlone ("I think we drew 0-0," he says") is a world away from the pampered princes of the Premier League academies and Manning, who netted his first goal for QPR in front of 18,00 fans in a London derby, is still proud of the fact this his first goal in senior football was in another derby, helping Mervue United beat Salthill Devon.
"Going from schoolboy football in Galway to playing in mens football where you have to battle was a big change," he says.
"We had a good schoolboy side at Mervue, you go out and beat a side 7-0 but you don't learn much from that, so going to Athlone to scrap for a point in the league, at the age of 16, having a battle with grown men, was a great platform."
He's been good for QPR and they have been good to him, though his start was late. "I came to QPR as I felt I had the best opportunity of playing at a high standard of football. Last year I was questioning my decision, thinking 'this isn't working out as I thought it would' but now it has come together and looking back it was the right decision to come here," he says.
"It's unbelievable. Even now, I am running on adrenaline for the first 10 minutes in games." Could caps come his way? "I am only 20. If it came to it and I was picked for the squad I would be delighted," he says.
"The World Cup is in 2018 so I have a year to break in, three months ago I didn't expect to be where I am, 12 games under my belt in a few weeks, so who knows what could happen in a year."