McManamon thriving after putting handball on back-burner
She chose one sport over another last year to pursue her World Championship dream but it is football all the way now for Clodagh McManamon and it has already paid off.
Getting a bunch of key players back this season, including the Burrishoole midfielder, has helped Mayo find a great vein of unbeaten form ahead of today's Lidl NFL semi-finals in Birr.
This time last year McManamon was concentrating on a much smaller ball.
"I took the year out of football to play handball because the World Championships were in Calgary," she explains.
She specialises in the small wall (40x20) and came home with two World Championship medals: silver in the A singles and gold in the B doubles where her partner was Mayo wing-back Leona Ryder.
McManamon (23) usually plays doubles with her twin Ciara, who has matched her achievements all the way, including debuting with Mayo seniors when they were still minors.
But Ciara's placement as a nursing intern last year meant she couldn't make it to Canada so their other 'sister' stepped in.
"Yeah, it's usually the three of us," McManamon laughs. "Leona is our best friend from home, plays handball and football too and people say we're like triplets, even though she looks nothing like us."
The McManamons followed their mother's sporting tradition, growing up right beside the ball alley in Newport, but combining two sports at the top level is hard.
Ciara is nursing full-time in Galway while Clodagh is based in Limerick. She completed a PE degree in UL last year and is now doing a Masters in sports performance - her thesis subject is the strength profile of contemporary and Irish dancers.
She is one of 23 inter-county players supported by a WGPA third-level scholarship.
Mayo training involves travelling to Athlone on Wednesdays and home every weekend plus two gym sessions, and she has no easy access to a ball alley in Limerick.
The handball season is also year-round and competitions often clash directly with football which is why she took last year out. Now she's back concentrating on football and playing handball for fun.
"I still enter the competitions and try my best but that doesn't always work out," she admits.
"We got knocked out of the championship doubles last month. We hadn't played or trained together for a few months and Ciara went straight from a night-shift to playing the following morning so that wasn't ideal!"
One of their two junior All-Ireland doubles titles came at the expense of Rachel Hogan, younger sister of Kilkenny star Richie, and it is handball that has brought them their only All-Ireland glory.
That's why winning a Division One title would mean so much.
"It was good to concentrate on handball for the year but I missed the football," McManamon admits. "The girls are lovely, you'd swear you never left really, and it's fantastic to be playing at the highest level.
"The set-up in Mayo this year is the best I've ever experienced. We have someone for strength and conditioning, someone to help with rehab and we're getting food after training now."
The return of Sarah Rowe (from soccer), the McManamons and their 'triplet' Ryder, Amy Bell, Carol Hegarty and the recovery from injury of Claire Egan and Aileen Gilroy has all helped to put Mayo back in the big-time.
And then there's Cora Staunton, back for her 22nd season and still overworking scoreboard operators wherever she goes.
See more on the WGPA's latest #BehindThePlayer campaign, supported by Elverys Intersport, at www.wgpa.ie or on their Facebook page.