Cathal Jordan was sitting in the stand at Tuam Stadium when he spotted Cathal Mannion from the corner of his eye.
Most young lads would do their level best to avoid an unnecessary conversation with the deputy principal who followed them up and down the corridor throughout their secondary school years; Mannion, though, is cut from a different cloth. The Galway corner-forward, who left St Cuan’s College, Castleblakeney for the last time in June 2012, strolled over towards his old maths teacher with all the swagger of an “old-style politician”.
“I was below at the Connacht U21 football final between Galway and Roscommon last April and didn’t I see Cathal coming in,” recalls Jordan.
“Some ex-students would be avoiding you, a kind of ‘I’m not going anywhere near him’ attitude. But Cathal came straight over with the hand out, knows my wife and said ‘howya Yvonne’. “He was like an old-style politician. He stayed with us a few minutes before going to the meet the lads. He was an absolute gentleman.”
Pictures of both Cathal and his older brother Pádraic are sellotaped to the main door of the north-east Galway School this week, staff and the 312 pupils basking in the glow of the pair’s sharp rise to prominence.
Indeed, when you consider the first hurling title the brothers won at St Cuan’s was a Connacht Junior C crown back in 2009, is it little wonder the school is alive with excitement.
“Nearly all the texts between the staff all summer long centred on the two lads and how well they were doing,” says principal Collette Walsh, whose husband, Seán, will be commentating on the final for Galway Bay FM.
“We are so proud of them, as we are of Eoghan Delaney and Mark Kelly who are part of the minor set-up. This is new ground for the Ahascragh-Fohenagh club to have four hurlers involved. It is new ground for us too.”
Walsh can recall the various parent-teacher meetings in which she sat opposite Tom and Marie Mannion. The one constant through the years was their concern that the two boys were concentrating on their books.
“I, being from strong GAA stock, was condoning their passion for hurling,” laughs Walsh. “To be fair to them, they always got their work done in the classroom.”
Corner-back Pádraic repeated his Leaving Cert in 2011/12, lining out on the successful Galway minor team within a week of his return to St Cuan’s. Jordan was on Hill 16 for the 1-21 to 1-16 final win over Dublin.
“He made three great clearances that afternoon, one after another. On the third clearance the corner-forward gave him an awful belt which I brought up when I met him the following week. He said ‘don’t worry, he’d enough got at that stage’. Pádraic knew how to handle himself.”
St Cuan’s coach Jim Minogue admits: “Cathal would be the stylist, whereas Pádraic would have a cutting to him, a pure desire”.
Down the road, the village ofAhascragh has been drowned in a sea of maroon and white. Three banners hang between telephone poles across the main street, while Bannerton’s Garage, O’Donnell’s Bar, De Courcy’s Pub and Glynn’s Butchers have been adding an extra flag to their display window with each passing day in a bid to outdo the others. With the Meehans residing in the adjacent parish of Caltra, hurling was in danger of losing its identity around these parts and one would have to return to Tim Sweeney’s exploits in the 1958 All-Ireland final to find a credible Ahascragh-Fohenagh link to a Galway senior hurling team.
The club had no player involved during the glory years of the 80s and were again left out in the cold during Galway’s September showings in 1990, 1993, 2001, 2005 and 2012.
How times have changed. The Mannion brothers, of which Pádraic (22) is the elder by little over a year and a half, marked themselves out when delivering minor B glory in 2010, followed by U21 C and B wins in the two years following.
“It is unreal to have two lads on the panel, never mind the team,” says John Egan, manager of the Ahascragh- Fohenagh team to reach last year’s county intermediate final. The buzz among the juveniles is something else. We had a camp there for the last month, the numbers we had and hype that was there was largely because of the lads and how well they were doing with Galway. The young lads have four of their own to look up to. Pádraic and Cathal were fantastic at the camp. They would have their feet firmly on the ground and would be hands on in terms of helping with the next generation. Their application to the game is what sets them apart. They always want to learn, always want to improve.”
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