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'I just couldn't believe Gilroy was playing me'


Kevin McManamon. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

Kevin McManamon. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

Kevin McManamon. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

Back in 2010, Kevin McManamon's ambitions with Dublin didn't extend beyond getting a Championship appearance.

Thoughts of Celtic Crosses seemed fanciful. Scoring goals into the Hill to help Dublin win All-Irelands would have been too perfect to even dream.

Instead, McManamon thought much smaller. His Dublin ambitions were fuelled by a desire to match his brother Brendan, who made a handful of Championship appearances for Dublin a couple of years earlier and to go one step further than his father Maxi, who played League back in the early 1970s.

But as soon as he reached his destination, he quickly realised he had set himself up to fail.

"I didn't really enjoy the Croke Park stuff because I couldn't relax … my debut was an absolute disaster," he recalls. "I played against Wexford at home. I think we were 10-2 or 12-2 (0-8 to 0-2) down at half-time. I was whipped at half-time. We came back and drew the game. Yeah, that was a bad memory. I was terrified. I didn't know what to do."

Life experience and a recently acquired background in psychology helps him see now that he was getting in his own way, chipping away at his own potential. Even the best footballer in the world can't get to places he hasn't thought of going.

"I'd built myself up for this. All I wanted was 'a debut', instead of 'to play well on a debut'. All I wanted was to have one up on my da. My da had a few League starts with Dublin. I could say 'I have the Championship now Da, sorry big man'.

"I never had an opinion of myself as the big match winner for Dublin - I had an opinion of myself as some young fella who is spoofing his way through the League. I couldn't believe (Pat) Gilroy was playing me, I thought he was winding me up, like.

"You can't out-perform your own self-image and my self-image was of a shy fella who wants to do his bit for Dublin and he's star-struck around here.

"My self-image has changed a lot since."

McManamon, going into his eighth season as a Championship footballer, has won four All-Ireland medals, scored goals that have helped win games and delivered moments that have helped shape eras.

It's all a million miles from the place he was in in 2010, when he just to hoped that he wouldn't see Gilroy's name flash up on his phone ready to deliver the 'thanks but no thanks' speech.

"It's a common thing, this impostor syndrome," he explains. "It's like 'eventually they are going to figure out all the doubt and stuff that is going on in my head'. What I figured out a couple of years later is that everybody has it. But I had made it real. I had actually believed it."

His stock had risen and fallen in that time. He was labelled with the 'supersub' tag after some of his off-the-bench heroics. It's not that the moniker was unwelcome but if his GAA career had thought him anything, it was to demand more from himself.

And even now, the learning continues. Going into last year's drawn All-Ireland final, McManamon was within touching distance of an All-Star and was in the Footballer of the Year conversation. But like the rest of the Dublin forward line that day, he got stuck in a rut.

"I didn't perform in the drawn game; I learned a lot about how to prepare for All-Irelands finals in that week… I know how to get my preparation right now," he says.


"The replay was a nice way to come back because I got a chance to reset myself, put it behind me, forgive myself for the drawn game, and I was happy enough with how I performed.

"And that's the big thing for me, to perform at your best in an All-Ireland final is probably the goal for a footballer, to be really able to let go and let loose when it matters most."

And when it came to the replay, he was front and centre for the game's seminal moment. McManamon delivered the hit on Peter Crowley that saw the ball turned over for the insurance point. It could have easily been a free that might have led to a Kerry equaliser.

"I don't really play the game for the moments," he says. "Obviously I'll never forget some moments, and other people will never forget and will always associate them with me. But I think as footballers and as athletes and as people, we try to get a day where we get rewarded for all our hard work. So for any footballer, to go and perform for 70 minutes is the Holy Grail.

"Now, it's easy to say that. We all want our moments, and I got my couple of signature moments, very early in my career, that people remember me for. But for me it is about getting the most out of myself.

"I've done it in bits, but not the fully rounded performance just yet."

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