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Mannion wary of threat posed by Moran's men

Roscommon's sporadic brushes with success have meant that a player can have spent years toiling before a title is nabbed or, like for the victorious minors of 2006, senior glory can come quickly.

But while Donie Shine and his colleagues from that All-Ireland-winning minor team picked up their first Connacht senior crown last summer, Karl Mannion had a decade of frustration behind him by then.

Success last year was sweet for Mannion after so many disappointments but he is not content to leave it at that and knows the Rossies have a great chance of retaining their title this season.

Mannion's decade of toil is mirrored by Leitrim's failure to defeat their neighbours and arch rivals since 2000, and that's one stat the St Brigid's clubman hopes will remain unchanged when the sides clash on Sunday.

Mannion forged a strong midfield partnership with Michael Finneran last year as they secured an unlikely Connacht title, their first since 2001.

Mannion experienced every year of that barren decade, making last July's success alongside the next generation all the more satisfying.

"The age profile of this team is very young and it is largely built on the good minor teams of the last few years," said Mannion. "Last year was great to win the Connacht title and it is never too soon to win it.

"These lads have been used to winning with plenty of underage teams so if you win it at 18 or 28, it doesn't make a blind bit of difference.

"The chance was there for us and we took it and hopefully we'll get another one again."

The St Brigid's powerhouse twice suffered the sting of Croke Park defeats in the last year with club and county, and the lessons learned against Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final have focused minds in Roscommon.

"There is a real drive from every team in the country to get to Croke Park every year, but right now we are solely focused on Leitrim and getting past them," he said.

"Losing to Cork last year was a disappointment alright, but we are not going out this year to right any wrongs. Leitrim is the only thing that we are focused on right now. We are not looking past next weekend -- a Connacht final would be great, but to get there we have to beat Leitrim."

The Rossies may share a border with all four of their provincial rivals, but from both sides of the divide, there is something special about a Leitrim-Roscommon clash.

Roscommon have won four of the last five championship ties between the two. The other was the 2004 draw in Pairc Sean MacDiarmuida -- the Rossies cruised through after a replay.

But Mannion refuses to write off the underdog. "Yeah, we managed to win the last few games with Leitrim in the Connacht championship, but they managed to beat us four or five years ago in the league in Hyde Park and we only beat them by two points in the league (this year)," he said.

"There is never too much between the sides. We have played each other so often that we know what we have to do to beat them, and certainly if we don't do it we will be punished.

"Two years ago in Carrick-on-Shannon they got of to a great start against us and scored a goal in the first few minutes. If we allow that to happen on Sunday it will be very tough to get back at them.

"They have been improving all the time so for us a good start is very important."

The seven debutants caught the eye in Leitrim's win over Sligo side two weeks ago.

Conor Beirne earned himself a man of the match award with a 1-3 haul as Leitrim's non-stop action blew Kevin Walsh's men away.

And Mannion cannot but marvel at the ease of transition the newcomers made into Mickey Moran's team.


"They have been very impressive all year," he said. "It is a huge credit to them that they have performed so well with the massive turnover of players that they had.

"The playing population of Leitrim is a good bit smaller than Roscommon and if we had to deal with losing seven or eight of our players we would definitely struggle.

"It is a credit to them and they have managed to play skilfully and have shown huge desire along the way."

Certainly Roscommon have picked a slightly quieter path to this stage of the year. They did the same in last year's competition and Sligo were hoodwinked.

After an unbeaten Division 4 campaign was deflated by the Longford defeat in the league final, they cruised past New York at the start of May in their Connacht opener.

Club commitments with St Brigid's reduced Mannion's league outings this year but he is now hoping that the All-Ireland club final loss will be offset by another Connacht medal.

"Losing a club All-Ireland with St Brigid's was very disappointing, but we were not disappointed with how we played on the day.

"We had a couple of rounds of the club champ-ionship and a few challenges so we cannot wait to get back to the Connacht champ-ionship," added Mannion.

"We have had a bit of a break now and we are well up for it."

Irish Independent