No regrets for Mannus over putting Hoops first
ALAN MANNUS is aware that he has probably sacrificed his international career to play for Shamrock Rovers, so he's hoping to justify that decision by picking up a league medal in Bray tomorrow night.
The big goalkeeper had won four caps for Northern Ireland when he joined the Hoops and, considering they were earned at Linfield while playing at a level he believes is inferior to the League of Ireland, he felt that the move wouldn't be a hindrance.
But Nigel Worthington has clearly taken a dim view of Mannus' decision to move down south and the tension between the pair was exacerbated in May when the 28-year-old refused the opportunity to link up with the North's end-of-season tour of the United States because he would have missed his employers' derby meeting with title rivals Bohemians.
He already had an inkling that the recall to the squad was related to injuries, and that Worthington wouldn't pick him for competitive squads once he remained with Rovers.
It puzzles Mannus that his country's manager has adopted that philosophy when he has sporadically called up players from the Irish League and individuals who are stuck in reserve team football across the water.
Indeed, his dressing-room colleagues Chris Turner and Thomas Stewart echo those sentiments, with the latter citing the examples of Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn, feeling they were 'banished' once they plied their trade south of the border.
Mannus knew the score when he told Worthington about his move to Tallaght midway through last year. "He said, 'oh well, it's done, we'll deal with it'," Stewart recalled yesterday.
"When I joined up with a squad after that, he asked me, 'have you been playing?' I was surprised he didn't know, but he wasn't too keen on players playing here.
"I don't agree with it, but what I say doesn't seem to matter to him. I kinda thought if I pulled out of the squad in May, he wouldn't be too happy and when I told him, he didn't sound the happiest.
"I knew the risk, and I don't regret it as I'd have missed the game against Bohs. I was prepared for it."
Stewart, who captained the North at U-21 level while at Linfield, is equally puzzled when he considers some of the players who have been capped subsequently.
The attacker is also surprised that Worthington doesn't seem to speak to his boss, Michael O'Neill, a former international team-mate, to enquire about their progress. "I don't get it," sighed the 23-year-old.
Still, the Belfast duo want only positive thoughts in their minds ahead of tomorrow's trip to Bray.
A win will guarantee a first championship since 1994 for Shamrock Rovers, and a draw would be enough unless Bohemians score a five-goal win over Dundalk.
Both have league medals to show from their time at Linfield, with Mannus a four-time winner and Stewart twice successful. Now they're in an incredibly strong position to supplement the mantelpiece, particularly given the topsy-turvy nature of the past month.
The netminder, who is out of contract after the FAI Cup final against Sligo on November 14, feels there are parallels between Linfield and the Hoops.
"They're both very well supported in all games," said Mannus. "You'd go to away games and more Rovers fans would travel compared to other clubs. Both have a community element as well.
"When I joined Rovers, I thought there would be a chance of success here. I liked everything about it, the set-up and the people involved."
Last Friday's dramatic turnaround, which saw Bohs lose in Galway and the Hoops reclaim the top spot after recovering from what seemed like a terminal slump, has reminded Mannus to take nothing for granted before passing the test presented by Bray at a sold out Carlisle Grounds.
"We haven't won anything yet," he declared. "But you've got to be positive, and think that we've worked too hard to let this slip away now."