Last January’s Allianz National Football League encounter between Dublin and Kerry provided a gutcheck in more ways than one for Paul Mannion.
Five months earlier, the Kilmacud Crokes forward had been standing on Hill 16 celebrating the Dubs’ All-Ireland final win over Kerry, his brief experience as a fan coming towards the end of a season away from the game.
Ironically, the Kingdom were his first opponents in a competitive game back in blue in that league match, with the challenge of going up against Kerry’s Briain Ó Beaglaoich opening his eyes to the doubts he harboured about reclaiming his place on Jim Gavin’s panel.
“I was absolutely knackered at half-time. I came in and got sick in the sinks at Croke Park. It raised eyebrows a little bit,” revealed Mannion, speaking in promotion of Elverys Intersport’s #BringTheColour campaign.
“I always thought it would be difficult and it was difficult. If you take a year out, you know there is going to be a risk, the place mightn’t be there when you get back.”
Mannion’s studies for a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce International prompted the decision to take a year out and travel to Beijing and Wuhan. Even after making his comeback, the 23-year-old struggled to nail down a starting place, as exams in the early summer provided another distraction, which he attributes to his indifferent performance in Dublin’s Championship opener against Laois. That was his only start until the All-Ireland final replay win over Mayo, though he did score a fantastic individual goal as a substitute against Donegal.
“It’s difficult, the way the season works out, especially when you are in college,” said Mannion on getting back to his best, but he insists he has no regrets.
“For me, it was [important to go away], but for others, it’s whatever you feel. 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 meet people from all over the world. It was a great year and I didn’t have any regrets.”
Other Dublin players have opted to make similar plans, with Rory O’Carroll and Jack McCaffrey both skipping the 2016 season to go travelling.
“I’d never tell anyone they should go away,” said Mannion. “I’d never say ‘you have to go’, but for me, it was a great move… I was back in January 2 this year, and felt a lot more eager, motivated, than I was January 2 the previous year. That wasn’t what I was thinking, when I left. The main reason I wanted to go away was for enjoyment… but when I came back it, it did give you that extra kick at the start of the year.”
McCaffrey has already indicated he is keen on returning to the Dublin set-up next season.
“I think he’ll come back and, as long as he trains hard, he’ll fit in fine, it won’t be any trouble to him,” said Mannion on the Clontarf flyer. “Maybe fitness-wise at the start [he will struggle], 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. I beg to differ!”
Mannion, though, does not expect to see his Kilmacud clubmate O’Carroll back soon. “As far as I understand, he won’t be [returning],” he said.
“He only arrived in New Zealand a few weeks back. He’s looking to get a job there now and he’s got his girlfriend there, so he seems happy out. I don’t expect him to be back next year. We’d love to have him back, but we all wish him well and he’s happy, so that’s the most important thing.”
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