| 4°C Dublin

big loss Paul Mannion's departure is the equivalent of Da Vinci walking away from his easel halfway through the Mona Lisa

Close

Paul Mannion's wand of a left foot will be sorely missed by the Dubs

Paul Mannion's wand of a left foot will be sorely missed by the Dubs

Paul Mannion's wand of a left foot will be sorely missed by the Dubs

Paul Mannion is the custodian of a left-foot so cultured it might well have been tutored at an Ivy League school.

That a weapon of such scorching beauty is being decommissioned before its 28th birthday feels like a reworking of The Ballad of Jack McCaffrey.

Mannion departs the stage - perhaps on sabbatical, perhaps closing the door on his old, glorious life for the final time - not as a footballer getting by on the fumes of the past.

As with McCaffrey, it feels the equivalent of Da Vinci walking away from his easel halfway through the Mona Lisa.

With his electrifying pace intact, power oozing from a washboard physique, with the memory of his prolific summer convulsions as crisp as a freshly-baked loaf, he is pulling down the shutters in the midday of his sporting life.

Hill 16 will hope it is merely for a siesta.

There was one before, of course, Mannion's studies requiring that he spent 2015 in China, which, as Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh might remind us, is not a noted GAA stronghold.

Twelve years younger than the eternal Stephen Cluxton, two months Brian Fenton's junior, a Mannion doppelganger might be the prototype unveiled if scientists were asked to create a player equipped to meet every requirement of high-end Gaelic football in 2021.

A study in athletic grace, feline sleekness, with a champion prizefighter's impressive sinew, as well as the humility, work ethic and engine to don the overalls and embrace the dirty, shop-floor grime.

No elite forward - and few elite defenders - can summon a superior technique when called on to dispossess an opponent in one of those speed-of-light summer duels.

Mannion is a versatile double-jobber: one minute the eye-catching mixologist juggling bottles while pouring a perfect Mojito, the next an uncompromising doorman evicting troublemaking nuisances from the premises.

But it is the ability of the former schoolboy soccer international to invade the biggest days and make them his own that sets him apart.

In the All-Ireland finals of 2017, 2018 and 2019 (the latter going to a replay), the years when Dublin cemented their seat in the palace of immortals with a third, fourth and fifth straight title, he scored a total of 1-10.

One measure of his impact: his heavyweight rumble with David Clifford in 2019, his six scores from play over the 140 minutes of battle with Kerry in the drawn final and replay matching the Kingdom's colossus.

Over those final three years of Jim Gavin's imperium, only one footballer won three straight All-Stars.

It wasn't Cluxton or Fenton, it wasn't James McCarthy or Ciarán Kilkenny.

It was the tall, wiry, Kilmacud bullet train, a study in grace with gymnastic balance and a sprinter's fast-twitch fibres, who was the Caesar of those defining summers.

And now he is gone, the line attributed to Alexander the Great hanging in the air: "I would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity."

Close

Mannion (right) and Brian Howard. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Mannion (right) and Brian Howard. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Mannion (right) and Brian Howard. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Maybe the story soured a little in 2020.

Under Dessie Farrell, he and Brian Howard were two Gavin A-listers who had to wait until long after the party started before being called to the dance floor.

Mannion did not join the All-Ireland semi-final until the 55th minute, was unleashed in the 51st minute of the final, sinking a dagger into Mayo's ribcage with a soaring left-footed free from under the Hogan Stand.

Maybe the issue was forced by his need to quarantine after a post club-championship holiday, perhaps Farrell felt an urgency to place his own stamp on the team, but who knows what tensions this restricted role created?

What is certain is it cannot have been easy to morph almost overnight from celebrated lead vocalist to just another backing singer lurking in the shadows.

Mannion, to his credit, has always been unafraid to fight his corner.

When Dublin sought to re-imagine him as a worker-bee forward further out the field, he went to Gavin's assistant Jason Sherlock in 2017 and stressed he felt best equipped to contribute as an inside-forward.

That took moxie and the transformation in his status was instant and radical, with Dublin the beneficiary.

A player who had neither scored nor finished his first three All-Ireland Finals now delivered daunting evidence of a special talent.

There was, to borrow a line from the wordsmith Sebastian Barry "something of a song" in the way he played the game.

Only Mannion, 27, but with ambitions that stretch far beyond a rectangle of grass, can determine if there will be an encore.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Sunday World


Top Videos





Privacy