Paul Mannion believes current football structure requires further change

Dublin footballer talks championship changes and loss of selector Shane O’Hanlon ahead of the All-Ireland series

The Dublin footballers hit the town on Sunday night to mark their 14th consecutive Leinster senior title success, but it is fair to say the celebrations did not border on euphoric.

The Dubs will now spend much of this week on a training camp in Portugal as the real business of the season approaches. A lot has changed since 2011 when their streak of provincial dominance started, but for Paul Mannion more changes are needed.

These changes include where the provincial championships feature in the season, a change of venue for certain Dublin home games from Croke Park to Parnell Park, and a change to the regulations that see three from four teams progressing to the knock-out stages of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship (SFC).

“If it was just the top two from each group, I think that would make a lot more sense,” Mannion says ahead of Dublin’s round-robin campaign in a group alongside Mayo, Cavan and Roscommon.


“I don’t know where the idea for the third team qualifying [came from], I think it’s unique. You don’t see it in other sports, three teams qualifying from a group of four, it seems odd and it will probably lead to some games where it feels like there is not a whole lot on the line.”

A crowd of just 23,113 turned up at Croke Park for Sunday’s Leinster final between Dublin and Louth. Just 12 months ago the same teams played out a provincial decider in front of 40,115.

With attendances at Dublin matches falling, fixture makers must seriously consider where best to schedule future Dubs games, particularly during the National League and Leinster championship.

Dublin’s last championship game at Parnell Park was a 2004 All-Ireland SFC qualifier against London, while a rearranged fixture against Meath during Covid restrictions in 2020 was the first time the Dubs had played a league football game at the Donnycarney venue in a decade.

“I’d love to play even some games in Parnell Park, like some of our home league games and stuff like that,” Mannion says.

“They are probably missing a trick and overlooking the kind of atmosphere and excitement that you can build in smaller grounds.

“But then they are also probably thinking that we have this magnificent stadium that could be just not used for large parts of the year if that’s a case, so I can understand the dilemma.

“But I think if you do mix it up and take some games out of Croke Park, it gives more of a novelty to Croke Park for players and fans and you’d probably see attendances go up then because it’s used less frequently and it’s more novel.”

Mannion has suggested running the provincial championships concurrently with the league or All-Ireland SFC, but either way he does not believe the structure currently in operation has a long-term future.

“I don’t think it will stay the way it is now in its current format, I don’t think it’s really exciting and pleasing fans and teams and managers,” he says.

“Just the format itself is strange, the timeline is strange. I think a lot of that needs to be changed.”

Mannion is no stranger to change, he has opted in and out of the Dublin squad at various stages during his glittering career. After his last sabbatical, the Kilmacud Crokes player returned to the squad in September 2022, but that same month he suffered a serious ankle injury, which required surgery.

He admits finding it difficult at stages last year to regain peak fitness, though he feels in much better shape 12 months on.

Still, it wasn’t until February of this year before he finally resolved to return for 2024 and says one of the main factors behind his decision was the death of Shane O’Hanlon, a popular member of the Dublin management team.

“There were a combination of factors, I suppose,” Mannion says. “I was happy with how I finished in the club championship, I felt physically good again, felt like I was progressing.

“For a while there I wasn’t sure really if I had the fitness needed after the injuries of the last couple of years, whether I was fully able for it.

“Then I was looking at the likes of Fitzy [Michael Fitzsimons], Macker [James McCarthy], and Clucko [Stephen Cluxton] going in again. I thought I couldn’t be the only one to step away. I know Dean [Rock] did, but I said with them going again I owed them and the group to go again.

“And I suppose the last one that really kind of underlined it for me was Shane O’Hanlon’s passing as well, which shook us all in February.

“I kind of just knew what he would have wanted me to do and how much he loved it. That was when I really knew my mind was made up then.

“We were talking about him in the dressingroom before we went out on Sunday, and in the hotel, about how much he would have loved to be there.

“He’s at the forefront of our minds, every training session, every match day, it’s really strange not having him around. He will absolutely be a big motivating force for us this year. His picture is up on the wall of the dressingroom before we go out. I just feel like he is with us there really.”

– Paul Mannion was speaking at the launch of SuperValu’s sponsorship of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and this year’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning

Gordon Manning is a sports journalist, specialising in Gaelic games, with The Irish Times