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Mannion ready to shine

A year ago, Paul Mannion wasn't really on the map as a potential Dublin footballer. Or if he was, his presence signified merely a dot on an expansive atlas.

Sure, he had an All-Ireland U21 medal but he had gone through a brief exile from Jim Gavin's team, before being repatriated with the squad and scoring a goal from the bench in the final.

And Kilmacud Crokes were only just realising that they had a special talent in their midst, because it wasn't until the Dublin SFC resuming post Pat Gilroy's side's All-Ireland semi-final exit that he showed just how much promise was contained in his still slight frame.

As senior competitive debuts go, Mannion's wouldn't quite be classed as disastrous, but neither could it be filed under 'promising'.

Against Cork in Croke Park on February 2, after a couple of initial balls went awry, a collision with Damien Cahalane in the 32nd minute left Mannion concussed and he was removed from the pitch.

Yet now, after a string of excellent performances through the closing jumps of the league, he is a good bet to make his championship debut against Westmeath on Saturday.


Those who have viewed his development from close quarters have been impressed by the velocity of his emergence.

"He's a club-mate of mine and seeing him play last year and seeing how talented he was, I was sitting back and wondering how that was going to transpire to the county set-up," says Cian O'Sullivan.

"It is a bit of a step up, just the intensity and the physicality of players, but he has adapted fantastically.

He has been one of the standout players during the league campaign, and he's a player who is going to feature for us prominently throughout the summer, hopefully."

If Mannion does start on Saturday, he will likely be one of a number to make their first of the summer.

Jack McCaffrey played a miniscule role against Laois last year in the All-Ireland quarter-final but is set to make his first start at wing-back.

Jonny Cooper is another bidding to make his maiden start while Kevin O'Brien, last year's U21 captain, is also heavily in the mix to begin a championship game for the first time.

And all, according to O'Sullivan, arrived into the Dublin squad already equipped for senior championship football.

"I think it is probably a combination of factors," he points out. "They are probably better built.

"The game has changed so much the last number of years; there has been an added focus on strength and conditioning and that has filtered down to the underage structures.


"And then, added to that, those guys have had success at underage as well. They have minor All-Irelands. They have U21 All-Irelands. So they have that confidence. And I think that is shining through in their adaptation to senior football.

"The thing this year, there has been a lot of change in personnel in the backroom team and the players themselves," he adds. "When you have that competition and you have lads fighting for places, that's how you get the most out of yourselves as players.

"I think we found that out ourselves during the league. If we can maintain that going into the summer, I think that is going to be the key."