Reaching for the sky
After meteoric rise through ranks Mannion still gaining altitude as he plots more glory with dynamic Dubs
EVEN Paul Mannion has been startled by the speed of his ascent.
For the Kilmacud Crokes youngster, 2012 started with ambitions of breaking into the club's senior team. By the end of 2013, he was an All-Ireland champion.
What sparked it all is unclear, maybe even to Mannion himself. Going back a few years, he was just one of the litter at Crokes. Mannion was undoubtedly talented, but his head had been turned by soccer for much of his teenage years.
A schoolboy international who had attracted some interest from clubs here and cross-channel, his development was delayed. His own assessment is that he wasn't good enough to make a career in soccer, while the GAA always maintained a hold on him.
"I suppose a lot of kids growing up that is their end goal – they always want to play in England. I don't think I had the same obsession because the GAA and football were there.
"Certainly, my parents were not obsessed with the idea either. They always said to me that they would love me to go to college and play football at home, so I never put too much thought into it.
"To be honest, there was small interest there (from clubs). The bottom line, though, is that I wasn't good enough at soccer to be in with a shout.
"I had committed myself to the Dublin minors and, once that happened, I was happy to play Gaelic football and, at the end of the day, I am glad that I did."
Before that, his involvement with Dublin underage teams only went as far as development squads, but by the time 2011 rolled around he was a key figure in the county minors' run to an All-Ireland final. From there, his career gathered speed. The following year he would win his first All-Ireland U-21 medal, coming off the bench to score the decisive goal in the All-Ireland final.
Jim Gavin promoted him to the senior ranks immediately and, from there, he secured a clean sweep with the seniors in 2013.
Mannion picked up his second U-21 crown last Saturday when he unveiled another string to his bow. His free-taking from the ground was exemplary as he kicked six dead-ball scores to conclude a breathless 24 months. The authority with which he took his frees was another example of the growing self-belief that has fuelled his rise.
"I could never have imagined the speed of it. You are not even thinking about Dublin – all you are thinking about is winning a championship with Crokes, but it did not work out that way.
"The next thing you know, you are thrown in with Dublin. Obviously, it was an honour, but it was also a bit of a shock at the same time.
"It was down to a bit of confidence. Doing the Leaving Cert, it is always tough and the mock results were not too good. It put a bit of extra pressure on me to do more study and it got a bit hectic.
"Jim Gavin was a massive help, he would say that if you are struggling then take a couple of sessions off to study, so there was no problem with that at all. So, I just managed to get back on top of the books and the football kind of followed after that. I started to string a couple of decent performances together in training and I just got the shout then."
Seven medals with Dublin in 24 months is not to be sniffed at, but there's no rest for Mannion now. There's the small matter of forcing his way back into the Dublin side that seems to have grown since last year. Twelve months ago, he was a relative unknown, but opponents will definitely see him and the rest of Dublin's young guns coming this summer.
"Of course we're always looking to improve and I suppose there'd be an expectation on us now having had a year at senior level to push on again and do more things.
"It's going to be difficult as well coming back into the squad a bit later because of the U-21 championship. It can only help. It gives us that extra back-up, more players, the competition for places increases."
Still gaining altitude, Mannion has no intention of coming into land just yet.