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joy blue 'At the moment I'm happy' - Paul Mannion on life outside Dublin's Sam Maguire machine

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Former Dublin footballer Paul Mannion in attendance at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars at Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland's most prestigious sports awards were first presented in 1971. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Former Dublin footballer Paul Mannion in attendance at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars at Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland's most prestigious sports awards were first presented in 1971. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Former Dublin footballer Paul Mannion in attendance at the launch of PwC's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the All-Stars at Croke Park in Dublin. Ireland's most prestigious sports awards were first presented in 1971. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The statement from Dublin GAA in January confirming Paul Mannion’s departure contained a couple of carefully chosen words.

Mannion, it explained, was “stepping away from the Dublin senior football panel for now”.

Those last two words.‘For now’.

They left open the possibility of repatriation.

Six months and half a season on, it looks unlikely, if not impossible.

“This time last year, I’d never have foreseen myself not being involved this year,” said Mannion, speaking for the first time since leaving the Dublin squad at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the PwC All-Stars.

“I’ve always said when I’m playing that I just take each year as it comes, see how I feel each year.”

But here’s the giveaway line.

“At the moment,” he says, “I’m happy.”

Mannion is 28. He has six All-Ireland medals and three All-Stars. He has achieved all there is worth achieving in Gaelic football in multiples.

And, just now, nurturing the part of his life that doesn’t revolve around elite sport is enough to sustain him.

“It’s not even big things,” Mannion explains, “just the small things of being able to kick back and have a drink after work or with family.

“Birthdays, family time, friends – I was away there in Belfast for a weekend with friends. Playing a bit of golf again. Trying to learn the guitar as well, which is frustrating, but a bit of fun, too.

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“I don’t have anything new or huge that I’m committing to, just the small things.

“Not thinking, ‘Can I commit to a family event or wedding, or birthday?’

“Just being able to relax after work instead of scrambling together after work with the kit bag and shooting across the city.

“Just the small things are making the difference at the moment.”

It all sounds vaguely familiar.

Last year, Jack McCaffrey – another to walk away from the most successful GAA team in history at the peak of his own powers – did an interview with Bernard Brogan for Off The Ball, in which he revealed himself to be utterly contented by that decision.

Rory O’Carroll was another to change direction while in his prime. Diarmuid Connolly, too, albeit briefly.

All of which fuels the theory that it was the tsunami of success those players have enjoyed that quenched their appetite.

“I don’t think so, to be honest,” Mannion insists.

“I would have loved to have stayed and won more, it was more really just around the day-to-day, week-to-week commitment, and the hours you put in to get them.

“That’s it, like, it was nothing else.

“When you put it all together, it really is a lot of hours week to week and it’s not just training; it’s travel, it’s preparation, it’s meeting hours, it’s reviewing videos, it’s looking after yourself, recovering properly, preparing the right food, getting good sleep.

“Like, it’s not just a training thing. It’s around the clock, week to week and that’s all. That’s the only real factor that came into it.

“I wasn’t able to commit myself fully and properly to all of those areas with the same rigour as I had in years gone by.

“And I just felt that if I’m not able to do that, then I’m not really being true to myself and true to my team-mates.

“So, I felt it was the right time then.”

Mannion describes the commitment involved as ‘heavy’ as opposed to too much. He is keen to emphasise that his choice was a personal one. And that what might seem excessive commitment to him may be grist to another’s mill.

“Every player is different,” he stresses.

“Everyone has their own hopes and aspirations, and stuff going on in their personal lives.”

Whether more follow in his footsteps, we’re unlikely to know until such time as travel restrictions are fully lifted.

“I hope not,” Mannion insists, “because you should be able to enjoy a long career in the GAA without feeling the pressure to step away, I think.

“But I hope it’s not a trend, as such.

“I think what’s important is that everyone respects people’s decisions in general, whichever way it may be.”

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