Thus far, they’ve played four senior championship games. Beat Killimordaly and Abbeyknockmoy. Lost to Moycullen and Kilnadeema-Leitrim. Victory over Athenry in their final group outing and they could, potentially, squeeze into the knock-out stages. They will, of course, be without their coach when they take to the field that particular afternoon.
Two of the leading figures in bringing senior hurling to the East Galway village are the young Mannion brothers, Cathal and Pádraic. The latter called down to the pitch in Ahascragh on the Monday before Galway’s All-Ireland semi-final. Keady was taking the senior session. Mannion didn’t participate owing to the close proximity of the Tipperary game and while one of the drills was being run through, the former Galway half-back began chatting with the current number five.
Given the rivalry between the two counties during Keady’s time at centre-back and the famous saga of ’89 which prevented him from lining out in the All-Ireland semi-final against the Premier men, Keady told Mannion to think of him when crossing the Croke Park whitewash.
It was to prove the last conversation the elder of the Mannion brothers would have with his club coach, friend, and idol.
“I knew he was up at the game and would have been absolutely delighted with the result given the rivalry that was there with Tipperary when he was playing. He would have been on an awful high after the game,” Mannion remarks.
“A lad that was so healthy and so fit. He was planning to come down and train our club team on the Tuesday after. It was a massive shock.” No question but he’ll be thinking of Keady when he returns to GAA HQ this weekend.
“He was involved with the Galway U21s when I was there, but I really got to know him personally and his family this year. I’m really honoured that I did get to know him, because of the way he wore the jersey with a smile on his face.
“It put it into perspective, coming up to a game like this, that you don’t see all the hype as a negative really. You can enjoy it. We have a gym there in Ahascragh beside the pitch and Tony would be laughing at me when I’d be in there before training, I don’t think they had too much of that in their day. There are big changes when you consider the amount of games you play now versus back then. I would be slagging him about how few games they played to win their All-Irelands and he said back to me with a grin, ‘10 or 12 games is better than 10 years of shite’.
“Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years but the principles have stayed the same. Embrace the big occasion and let your hurling do the talking, as he did.”
Sunday represents Mannion’s second All-Ireland final having been at corner-back in 2015, his first year on the panel. A minor in 2011 and U21 in 2012, his ascension to senior was delayed by injury.
“At the end of 2012, I had a prolapsed disc in my back. It was just misdiagnosed and I didn’t really know what it was for a long time, so it really slowed down the recovery. I missed probably two years of hurling opportunity with Galway because of that.
“I was too young to go down the surgery route so it was just physio. I played very little hurling in 2013 and I started to get back to myself in 2014. It’s something that will always be there, but as long as you manage it you can keep it at bay.”
As a result of his back problems, brother Cathal, who is 19 months his junior, was first in the house to receive the senior call-up. And no more than 2015, this is a pretty special time in the Mannion household.
“For the parents especially, I’m sure it will be a proud day. It’s something Cathal and I probably always dreamed about when we were growing up. I don’t know did we ever think it would actually happen that we’d be playing in an All-Ireland final in Croke Park.”