Thursday 14 December 2017

Axing All-Ireland heroes has helped revitalise Brigid's - Mannion

Karol Mannion is determined that St Brigid’s keep winning. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Karol Mannion is determined that St Brigid’s keep winning. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It would have been easy to say their day was done.

When St Brigid's won their All-Ireland title on St Patrick's Day in 2013, it represented the culmination of almost a decade's work. The summit had been climbed. And Karol Mannion could see that for some, that was enough.

"I saw some people in the panel say that this was the top of the mountain, this was what I had played for the last 10 years for, or whatever amount of years we were contesting Connacht," Mannion remembers.

"We have lost players since then, people have gone travelling or drifted away. But the core lads that have driven this team for so long have always been ambitious and wanted to win.

"Winning the All-Ireland was obviously fantastic, but a lot of them still wanted to keep winning and play at this level.

"With people drifting away and some people not having the same drive, we had tailed off in the years after.

"Losing to Castlebar the year after was a tough one, and then Ballintubber beat us quite easily the (next) year, and losing in Roscommon last year was another sign of our decline."

Their great rivals Clann na nGael climbed back to the top of tree in Roscommon last year and that looked to be it for that team.

However, under the guidance of Frankie Dolan, who kicked the winning point for the club in the All-Ireland final, St Brigid's have recovered.

Dolan's cajoling has got more out of the old guard and he's brought in some new blood as well. And tomorrow sees them go in search of a fifth provincial title in ten years.

"Since Frankie came in as manager, he's possibly seen all (the losses and decline) and realised that for a team to come back and replenish itself with more energy, we had to change it up a bit," says Mannion.

Change however, comes at a price. And some of the pillars of the All-Ireland winning side have lost out as Dolan looks to keep Brigid's competitive.

"Frankie made some decisions during the year with certain players and put heat on a lot of the older lads that we can't keep going the way we're going, or we're not even going to get out of Roscommon anymore," says Mannion.

"He brought in some younger lads who have proven that they are good enough to start in the team. There's two lads in the half-forward line, Conor Murray and Brian Stack, who are good enough to start.

"Some of the senior lads who have started All-Ireland have lost their place.

"That kind of move by Frankie has been well received in one way because players with ambition who want to win understand if they lose their place to a better younger lad.

"I know one lad especially, Niall Grehan, who was the man that intercepted the ball for Frankie's winner in the All-Ireland, lost his place this year. But Niall is such a good clubman. He is happy as anyone to see them come into the team.

"Unfortunately he has lost his position, but thankfully there is that maturity and honesty in Brigid's that young fellas can come in and demote some of the older lads.

"I think that's why we have come back strong this year to contest a Connacht final."

Tomorrow they take on Galway champions Corofin. Ten years ago, Mannion scored a spectacular last-gasp goal to snatch the Connacht title from under their noses. Five years ago, they also emerged on top but tomorrow they go in as underdogs against the 2015 All-Ireland champions.

"You can't really say the All-Ireland winning team of 2013 with St Brigid's will be playing Sunday," says Mannion.

"You might only have seven starting. From the last day we played Corofin we might have only have (a few) starting. It is a different team.

"Our success at All-Ireland level was a lot further back than Corofin's.

"Corofin, now, have had a year off and generally speaking in the first couple of years after you win the All-Ireland, the momentum and the bunch of players sticking together will be enough to get you back to that level.

"We're not back at that level yet, while Corofin are. That's why we're not as fancied, I can see why.

"We have to prove the next day that we're at that level."

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