Dublin's Paul Mannion explains the difference between playing in an All Ireland final and watching it on the Hill
Just in case you were somehow under a contrary assumption, Paul Mannion has clarified that yesterday’s seismic All Ireland SFC final replay between Dublin and Mayo was every bit as relentlessly frenetic as it appeared to be.
When all was said and done, and the dust had eventually settled, even the most cursory reflections could tell us that yesterday’s All Ireland final was among the most compelling in recent memory.
In the end, the entirely pulsating, two-game affair came down to a single point. Yet that single point dictated that Dublin had retained their All Ireland crown for the first time since 1977, while Mayo must still look back to 1955 as the most recent occasion that Sam Maguire was theirs.
The finest of margins indeed. With Dublin ahead by 1-15 to 1-14, Cillian O’Connor, having already sent over nine, stepped up to hit a free. Had O’Connor scored, extra time was a near certainty, but he didn’t and so it stayed.
According to Paul Mannion, who was on the side-line, having been replaced by Michael Darragh Macauley, as O’Connor prepared to strike the placed ball, Dublin were readying for additional attrition.
“We said on the line ‘let’s get ready for extra-time’, so we were getting our head around that. Cillian O’Connor is a phenomenal free-taker, but it was a difficult kick. I was surprised to see him miss it and it’s tough for him, but we were delighted.
“It was just incredible. It was a tight game right to the end and we thought it was going to extra-time,” he said.
Mannion was among the number of 11th hour changes Jim Gavin made to his starting XV, and yesterday was his first start in the Championship since the victory over Laois in the Leinster quarter-final.
Mannion revealed that had he a reasonably strong inkling over the last week that he would be playing from the first whistle.
“During the week. I suppose, the team wasn’t fully decided until… I had an idea that I could have been starting during the week. It was confirmed last night after training. It can’t be left to the last minute, so a few days in advance you start to focus on a starting role.”
That said, even the most timely of forewarnings could not have prepared him for what transpired in front of a heaving and raucous Croke Park.
“The intensity is like something you can’t imagine. Training can only prepare you so much - when you get out there it’s a completely different feeling, a completely different level.
“I was out of breath the whole time and it’s extremely difficult. It’s an All-Ireland final so we said before we went out that we’d absolutely empty ourselves and the lads were there to come off the bench to finish the job and they did that.”
While the 23-year-old put in a mammoth shift for the near hour he played, Mannion was unable muster a single score.
That, he explained, was just the nature of the beast on the sodden turf at GAA HQ.
“I was showing for the ball and trying to get on it, but chances were few and far between. So I just said that I was going to work hard, try to tackle and do what I could. I wasn’t getting on the ball in scoring spaces so you have to work your ass off”
Mannion played a prominent role in the Dubs’ All Ireland tilt in 2013, when Dublin also broke Mayo hearts in the finale, and a slightly lesser one a year later as they were dispatched by Donegal in the penultimate round.
Subsequently, as part of his studies, he spent the better part of a year in Beijing. He arrived home last June, which was just too late to figure in Jim Gavin’s plans.
For a time, he was unsure if he’d get another shot this year, such is the fierce competition for places in the Dublin set-up.
“There’s a chance that you might not because when you go away there are other lads who will come in and take the places. I still always planned on coming back and trying my best to get back into the team.
“Jim gave me a chance earlier in the year, I did well in training and he kept me on, but I suppose there’s still always a doubt there when you go away.”
In fact, Mannion was just another drenched supporter on the Hill as Dublin overcame Kerry in a similarly air-tight affair a year ago.
As fun as that was, he found the experience far less enjoyable than the one he had yesterday.
“It was great, I loved it - it was my first time on the Hill, really,” he said of the 2015 showcase.
“I had been there before (as a player) in 2013 so I know that feeling, what it’s like and the fun the lads are going to have in the weeks after so there was a bit of jealousy, but no regret.
“This year was easier! Watching on… On the pitch you don’t feel the nerves as much because you’re just focusing on your job; you’re not in the same sort of mood as the people in the crowd. Playing is easier.”