It's January 2008: Kevin McManamon is in a hospital A&E ward out west, his knee busted, watching TV while awaiting treatment … and on comes big brother to make his Dublin senior football debut.
Kevin McManamon scores the goal that turns history on its head, igniting Dublin’s turbo-charge past Kerry to a first All-Ireland SFC title in 16 years.
Kevin McManamon is relaxing in the St Brigid’s GAA complex at Russell Park, sheltered from the incessant rain outside, talking all things Dublin football, ready and primed for another assault on Sam.
The dynamo of St Jude’s has come a long way in the past seven-and-a-bit years. Back in early ‘08 he was gearing up for the Sigerson Cup with DIT but not even mapped in the senior inter-county pecking order.
Curiously, it was the sight of Brendan McManamon entering the O’Byrne Cup fray in Dr Cullen Park that kickstarted something inside.
“I was 21, playing Sigerson football,” Kevin recalls. “And I kind of felt – when he got called up – it was ‘game on here!’
“We’re very close friends,” he stresses, dismissing any notion of sibling rivalry. “But I remember when he made his debut . . . DIT had played Mayo (in a pre-Sigerson challenge) and I remember having a great game down there, and I got injured about 10 minutes into the second half and was taken to Castlebar Hospital.
“I had gone sliding on my knee and there was a rock buried under the ground . . . it was all superficial stuff,” he recounts. “I’m in the waiting room, watching TG4, and who comes on only Brendan – on his debut, down in Carlow.
“And I remember thinking, ‘Jesus, my leg is hanging off me – I’ll have to get back and get my chance.’”
Brendan made several cameo appearances off the bench in the summer of ‘08, Paul Caffrey’s swansong campaign; he was later part of Pat Gilroy’s squad in 2010 and fleetingly over the next two seasons.
He recently turned 33, a ‘former Dublin footballer’ still doing the business with Jude’s. “The body still moves, still has the pace,” confirms his younger brother.
Kevin, meanwhile, is 28 and in his prime – the proud owner of two Celtic Crosses and three Allianz League medals, he started all nine league matches this spring as Dublin completed their Division One hat-trick.
It hasn’t been an entirely straight-forward route to get here, however. The younger McManamon reckons he could have made the squad one or even two years before it happened in 2010.
“Jude’s got to the county final (in 2009) and Dublin were beaten by Kerry that year, so I think he (Gilroy) felt he needed a few changes and that was the year when a lot of new people got a chance,” he recalls.
“I did feel I was ready. I was 23 that January, so I kind of felt I wasted a year or two . . . in ’08 and ’09 I felt I should have been on the panel.”
When he finally made the cut, the perceived match programme wisdom of the time had him Christened Kevin McMenamon instead. Over the next few campaigns, another moniker stuck, one he found even harder to shake off. ‘Supersub’.
It’s a label that no player craves. In this particular case, McManamon’s reputation was consistently reinforced by his own hit-the-ground-running contributions off the Dublin bench. The 2011 All-Ireland against Kerry was merely part of a trend, embellished by his decisive semi-final goal against the same rivals in that classic
semi-final of 2013. Never once do you get the sense that Kevin Mac takes anything about his Sky Blue elevation for granted.
“There are some games where I’m the fourth or fifth forward on the teamsheet; sometimes I’m the eighth or ninth and I come on as a sub, so I just have to take it on the chin,” he remarks.
“I played a lot of games (over the past two seasons) and I’m starting to get a bit more consistency in my play, and I think that’s what the managers want.
“I always felt that if a manager is picking on what he feels or on his instinct, if you’re not as consistent it probably goes against you. And I probably was very consistent off the bench.
“That’s where it was, so you just ensure that every training (session) you’re in the manager’s head and you’re doing the right things, doing what he wants.”
Even as Jim Gavin cast his selection net wide this spring, McManamon was ever-present in the league. Dublin’s form graph was pretty erratic but they finished on an upward curve, with momentum, another title, and a further shortening of their All-Ireland odds.
Yet, it was the same last summer as they cruised through Leinster and then a quarter-final against Monaghan before being snared in Donegal’s web.
McManamon isn’t convinced by the theory that the absence of an earlier white-knuckle test contributed to Dublin’s downfall.
“That wouldn’t be a huge issue. We would have a lot of very tight, very tenacious training games as well during the summer. So you do get prepared for it,” he maintains.
“Look, there’s guys that have championship caps coming out of their ears. You know what I mean – playing in big games, playing in big noise. That shouldn’t be an issue any more for us.”
They have the experience – the good, the ghoulish and the glorious – to be steeled for what lies ahead. So, too, has Kevin Mac. Castlebar Hospital must seem a lifetime ago.
FACING THE BLANKET
“To me it’s just great practise. We didn’t really get much practice last year, playing against that.
“Against the likes of Tyrone or Derry in the league this year, for example, my traditional game of getting the ball kicked into me and trying to create scores or trying to score myself, it just isn’t going to be as simple as that. You can’t win the ball close to goal, really. So you need to find new ways.
“I don’t think that’s the only way to beat Dublin, but it’s what some of the teams are trying so you’ve just got to get over it.”
YOUR WORST DEFEAT IN BLUE?
“It (last year’s semi-final against Donegal) was close enough, with maybe the Mayo one of 2012. I think when we stepped back from that game (in 2012) we probably figured out that we weren’t as prepared as we should have been. We had stumbled a little bit through the summer, and we kind of felt ‘Ah, it’ll be grand when we get to the semi’ … we just got caught out.
“It was one of the worst ones but, look, any time you lose an All-Ireland semi-final it’s going to be messy.”
LEAGUE HAT-TRICK ‘HISTORY’
“We enjoyed it that night, and then we met after that and just said ‘Listen, what’s next?’ You can’t stand around and dwell, or you’re going to get beaten somewhere. So it was a nice final, a lot of us were proud that day … but you just deal with it and move on.”