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paul order for dessie Why Farrell should spend winter months orchestrating ‘leader’ Paul Mannion's return to the Dublin squad

Getting him back on board would be big boost for Dubs, even after 12 months away

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Kilmacud Crokes ace Paul Mannion has developed into the complete player. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilmacud Crokes ace Paul Mannion has developed into the complete player. Photo: Sportsfile

Kilmacud Crokes ace Paul Mannion has developed into the complete player. Photo: Sportsfile

On Saturday evening, Gaelic football’s great unwashed can catch Paul Mannion in action for the first time since the 2020 All-Ireland final, courtesy of RTÉ’s live TV cameras.

Parnell Park, the grey, concrete backdrop to many of his finest works, hosts a southside heavyweight Dublin SFC semi-final between Kilmacud Crokes and Ballyboden St Enda’s.

Form holding, viewers may reach similar conclusions to those of close observers of Dublin’s club scene: that Mannion remains one of football’s elite forwards.

That almost a year on from leaving the inter-county game, his skills and speed haven’t rusted in any discernible way; that physically, he remains something of a prototype for the modern forward.

And that if you were to order the myriad tasks in front of Dessie Farrell this winter in levels of importance, orchestrating Mannion’s return sits somewhere close to the top.

“If he wanted to go back with Dublin, he’d fit straight back in,” reckons Brian Kavanagh, the former Longford forward, who played alongside Mannion in the Crokes attack from his formative years until a couple of seasons ago.

“Paul is different, in that he has done this before. He went to China and he came back and was an even better player, so if he felt like going back in with Dublin was the right thing for him to do, it would be a huge boost for them.

“But I don’t see the year out as being any sort of issue with him, if he did decide to go back.”

Kavanagh is now part of the Crokes ‘B’ management team, who play in the Dublin all-county Intermediate semi-final on Saturday against Cuala.

“We’d be training up in Silver Park and you see him with the seniors, driving the whole thing on. He’s head and shoulders above everyone else. He’s just in peak shape. Peak condition.

“He’s always a threat. He can hug the wing, then cut in along the end line and go for goal. He’s almost impossible to stop.

“But then he moves out to centre-forward. He has adapted his game. He can drop deep, pick it up and lay it off, or he can just size up a defender and burst past him. That’s the level he’s operating at.”

Theories about Mannion’s intentions are not in short supply around Dublin just now.

Depending on who you chose to listen to over the past couple of months, he is either definitely coming back to the county squad for 2022, has no intentions of doing so, or has yet to decide.

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Pointed or otherwise, 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”.

Stepping away isn’t the same as retiring. And the words “for now” are only necessary to preserve the possibility of repatriation.

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

Presumably, Mannion could do without the attention. But if that is the case, he hasn’t done himself any favours with a string of recent displays for Crokes.

“There have been so many different progressions in his career,” Kavanagh explains. “First, he was all about lightning pace and speed. Then, he added power and strength and tackling.

“Now, you see him with Crokes becoming a real leader. He has that decision-making to his game now, he can take responsibility for the entire attack. He has become the complete player really.

“He has won everything there is to win, multiple times,” Kavanagh adds. “And, still, him and Rory O’Carroll are the two driving it on, setting the example. They’re still the hungriest players on the squad.”

How great a loss was Mannion to Dublin this year?

With no certainty could anyone conclude that Dublin’s fall, as charted through the Leinster Championship before defeat to Mayo, would have been preventable with Mannion on board.

But it’s not reckless to suggest he would have made a material difference to an All-Ireland semi-final that went to extra-time.

After that, who knows?

Mannion will be 29 in or around the time next year’s Leinster SFC starts.

If he remains in prize-fighter condition, that won’t last forever.

“It’s totally Paul’s decision,” stresses Kavanagh. “It’s all about how he feels after a year away. Playing senior inter-county, it’s an unenviable commitment. It can stifle a lot of other things in life.

“And he has given Dublin so much, right from underage through to senior.

“But he would add so much to them,” Kavanagh adds. “Like, there’s no doubt. If you take the top forwards in the country; the likes of David Clifford and Conor McManus, Paul is right up there with any of them.”

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