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IT’S HALF-TIME in Dublin’s first National League tie of the year. It’s also Paul Mannion’s first game back in a Dublin jersey since 2014.
After a lively first-half on Kingdom debutant Brian Ó Beaglaoich, the Kilmacud Crokes forward isn’t feeling so sprightly.
In the privacy of the Croke Park dressing rooms, he’s hunched over, throwing up into a sink.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
After spending the 2015 campaign in China and Chicago, Mannion is getting to grips once again with the high physical demands of inter-county football.
He played some O’Byrne Cup football with UCD in early January, but this is different. This is Kerry in Croke Park.
“I was absolutely knackered at half-time,” Mannion recalls. ”I came in and got sick in the sinks at Croke Park. It raised eyebrows a little bit. It took a long time to get back up to that level.
“It never happened me before even after the hardest training sessions I’ve ever done in my life, long runs and sprints that never happened me.
“I knew after coming back from the year I had I wasn’t in the best of shape. It wasn’t really surprising, it was a bit weird for the other lads, but they knew the shape I was in.”
Mannion’s close friend Jack McCaffrey faces a similary battle to build back up his fitness levels in 2017. The 2015 Footballer of the Year stepped away for the summer and volunteered in Africa as part of his medical studies.
“I think he [McCaffrey] will come back and as long as he trains hard he’ll fit in fine, it won’t be any trouble to him. I don’t expect it to be any struggle for him.
“Maybe fitness wise at the start, like I did, but I was talking to him a few weeks ago and he claims he’s in the best shape of his life!”
After his year out, Mannion picked up his second senior All-Ireland title earlier this month. That number might be three had he stayed around last year, but it’s not something that keeps him up at night.
“I felt like I’d love a break. I didn’t really expect to have played Dublin senior football for two years anyway.
“By the time it came around it was a welcome break and a chance to explore a bit of the world, learn a language and meeting people from all over the world. It was a great year and I didn’t have any regrets.
“I was in Beijing and Wuhan. Wuhan I was probably thinking was a bad choice maybe because I didn’t really like the city. I was loving Beijing. No, I didn’t really miss football an awful lot.
“I was doing a lot of other things, playing soccer in a college soccer league, playing pool, table tennis like mad – every day. I was having fun. There was no regret. I was doing a bunch of other amazing things so it was just another experience really.”
Delighted with today's win, a stunning 5-2 victory for Beijing-Dublin International! #WeAreGoingUp #Superleague pic.twitter.com/A8YEIeG4gq
— Paul Mannion (@Maaanonion) September 19, 2014
Source: Paul Mannion/Twitter
“I wouldn’t be fluent [in Manderin]. By the time I left I was pretty good, holding a conversation was fine. I just never really get the opportunity to speak it now, and you need to be practising it regularly. The same as any other language, you need to be keeping it up.”
He’s studying for a Masters degree in Digital Innovation at Smurfit Business School, and doesn’t rule out returning to China for work in the future. For now though, he’s happy to be in the business of winning All-Irelands with Dublin.
Things might have worked out differently. A talented underage soccer player, Mannion was capped by the Ireland schools’ team in 2011. He lined out for Belvedere and Home Farm, before the lure of winning All-Irelands with Dublin swayed him towards Gaelic football.
“It was 2011, the year with the minors, that really made me choose Gaelic. We lost the final against Tipp that year, the same day that the seniors won. And I remember standing on the pitch that day, [thinking] I would love to go on and win a senior.
“It was only a few months later that I was in the under-21 panel with Jim [Gavin], and just followed on from there, and never really thought about going back to soccer after that.”
Has he any regrets he never pursued a professional career in England? ”For me, I am glad that I didn’t have the opportunity and glad I didn’t go. I can see a lot of the lads that did go away from my age group and there is only one left over there now.
“So a lot of them are coming back and playing in the League of Ireland and they don’t have college degrees or anything to fall back on.
“They are still holding out hopes to get back across, but that just wouldn’t interest me at all. [I’m] much more happier with the way things have turned out.”
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Things haven’t turned out badly for the 23-year-old. After his encounter with the Croke Park sink in January, he flitted in and out of the team before making it back into the starting XV for the All-Ireland final replay against Mayo.
Mannion was confident enough about his own form to approach Gavin and throw his hat into the ring for a starting place.
“I spoke to one of the [selectors] and he said, ‘Tell Jim how you feel’. I just initiated it myself.
“I spoke to Jim and I said, ‘I feel ready, I feel I’m flying and if you’re thinking of making any changes I’m confident and up for the challenge’. Then a couple of days before he gave me the nod.”
Paul Mannion was on hand to launch Elverys Intersport’s #BringTheColour campaign.
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