Mannion content with life on the outside
By Kevin Egan
Last Saturday, as Dublin were in Cavan to take on Donegal in the semi-final of the Allianz Football League, Kilmacud Crokes were preparing for their first competitive senior game of the year against St. Jude’s.
Due to his decision to step away from intercounty football, Paul Mannion was in the slightly more humble surroundings of Tymon North, instead of Kingspan Breffni Park, and with less than a month gone by since his 28th birthday, there’s no doubt that the three-time All-star would have been able to mix it in the vaunted company that togged out in Cavan.
Whatever regret might have been felt by the small gathering of supporters that showed up for the club match, it wasn’t shared by Mannion himself, who is enjoying the freedom of his new existence.
“I don’t think I will (feel regret) because I still feel so grateful for everything I’ve achieved to date and all the good times I’ve had,” he said at Croke Park today, speaking at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars.
“If you’d asked me at the start of my career ten years ago, would you take what you have now, of course I would, I’d bite your hand off. I try to just keep that perspective in my head, so if I do get confused, I’ll always be able to look at the good times I’ve had, the memories I’ve had, and what we’ve achieved together. That’s a good dose of perspective for me, and if you can have that attitude for what you’ve already got, then it’s easy not to be envious looking on at what more could you have got.
“I’m still playing with the club as well and I’m enjoying being back with them, so I’ve still got football to play. I played a bit of soccer last night with friends, I’m playing golf at the weekend, so to be able to have that kind of balance and to be able to enjoy different sports and games feels good.
Relative to the five that preceded it, there was an odd atmosphere in Croke Park when Mannion collected his sixth All-Ireland medal following Dublin’s win over Mayo last December. Some people have suggested to him that the unusual environment meant that the occasion wasn’t as enjoyable, and that this may have prompted his decision to step away. In contrast, Mannion says that the desire to win and compete was as big as ever, but the capacity in his life to do what it takes was diminished.
“It was genuinely one of the most enjoyable of the All-Irelands that I’ve won. I think people assume that because I stepped away after it, that I wasn’t enjoying it or I wasn’t motivated for it. I was, and I think all our reactions after that game showed it” he said.
“I’d have loved to have stayed on and won more because I do think there is so much potential in that dressing room. When we won last December, that honestly felt like we’d won for the first time, it was that good. The motivation to win more and be part of the team was there, it was really just pure and simply the day-to-day commitment in terms of the amount of hours you have to put in, that was the main reason.
“It’s not just training hours, it’s travel time, it’s prep time, it’s meeting time, it’s making sure you get home to get your sleep in, eating the right food, recovering properly. Doing your homework, reviewing the opposition or your own matches, it is a huge commitment when you add all that up. It just got to the point over the last year or so that I was struggling to hold myself to the standards that I had in the time gone by”.
Yet despite this, he disagreed with the suggestion that the demands are excessive.
“No, I don't think so. That's what makes the game so special, because we are elite athletes in an amateur capacity. You put in all those hours just for the love of the game, and for representing your club, your family. That is the bread and butter of what is the GAA, and what makes it so special. I don't think it's too much to ask. No one is forcing you to do anything, you do it, and it's your own decision in your own time.
“When you do have success and achieve things in the game. It just makes it all worthwhile. What you put into it, when you're successful, you don't even think about that at the end of the year”.
And so to the question that every Dublin supporter will be most interested in, not to mention a lot of corner backs all around the country – is there any possibility of a return?
“I haven’t thought about that at all really” was his immediate response.
“This time last year I wasn’t thinking that I wasn’t going to be involved this year. I generally just take one year at a time and see how I feel at any given time. If what I’m doing is making me happy and I’m enjoying it, I’m happy to go again for another year and I will.
“I’ll just take it one year at a time and who knows, if in a few years I’m fit and healthy and I’d like to give it a go, I will.”