Paul Mannion happy to keep on clubbing as Kilmacud Crokes target Leinster title

Six-time All-Ireland winner not planning on a Dublin return this year

It tells a tale of the space Paul Mannion sees himself in these days that, along with fellow 20-something Jack McCaffrey, he attempted to organise a reunion of recently retired Dublin players last summer.

Unfortunately for the enterprising duo, the ex-Dubs they contacted couldn’t make the get-together because most of them are busy with young families.

“They were all like, ‘Lads, we have kids now, we can’t be doing this kind of thing’,” smiled Mannion. “We were like, ‘Ah, s**t, okay’. I think it was just me and Jack that went out and had a pint on our own.”

The significant takeaway from the tale is that Mannion, still just 28, still exceptionally talented and still bang on form, appears to view himself as a retired Dublin footballer. As opposed to a Dublin footballer who is taking a break from county activity.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s AIB Leinster club football final with Kilmacud Crokes at Croke Park, six-time All-Ireland winner Mannion joked that in reality he doesn’t know what he’s doing from week to week, let alone from year to year.

But pushed on his plans for 2022, he conceded that, no, he won’t be playing for Dublin this year. It will be a second straight season away from intercounty football and seems to substantiate Crokes manager Robbie Brennan’s claim back in November that ‘I think that’s it, I think that’s the last you’ll see of Paul [playing for Dublin]’. Brennan added the crucial rider at the time that we would obviously need to ask Mannion himself, an opportunity that finally arose on Thursday.

"I've told them that my attention is focusing on the club now, that I'm enjoying that," said Mannion of his Dublin situation. "Dessie Farrell made clear to me last year when I was stepping away that the door will still be open. My teammates said similar to me as well which I did really appreciate because I often don't know what I want to do from one week to the next, never mind one year to the next. For the time being I'm happy out with the decision. The plan is just to stick with that for the year."

Mannion and McCaffrey did eventually meet up with their former colleagues. A crew of current and former Dublin players got together for Paddy Andrews’s wedding in December and had a blast.

It was just like old times that weekend, though Mannion knows the reality is that once you step outside the intercounty bubble, things are immediately different. Friendships still exist but the tight bond becomes a little looser.

“A lot of the guys in the dressingroom I count as some of my best friends but when you’re not on the team and they are, you can’t really maintain that same kind of friendship,” said Mannion. “There has to be that boundary there which I totally understand and respect.”

That was the big thing Mannion missed in 2021, that sense of solidarity and togetherness in blue.

“At the same time, last year was entirely new to me and I was able to do lots of different things and just enjoy that time off,” he said. “I just felt a lot less pressure in general. I wouldn't say I missed a whole lot more than, as I say, just the social aspect, yeah.”

Living his best life? Mannion can’t be far off it with Croke Park still his field of dreams. His 53rd- and 54th-minute points there for Crokes against Portarlington in the provincial semi-final before Christmas helped secure a comeback win and they’ll return to GAA headquarters on Saturday for the decider against Naas (5pm, live on RTÉ) .

Man-of-the-match awards continue to fall at the forward’s feet like confetti. Fuelling all of this excellence is a plant-based diet, one he’s been on for several years now. His Christmas dinner, for example, was a nut roast. Clearly, a meat-less existence agrees with him.

“It can be a bit tougher to maintain weight and muscle mass but I don’t feel that it’s impacted me much on the pitch which is most important from a football point of view, and obviously from a general health point of view,” said the three-time All Star. “I’ve had blood tests done, early last year or late 2020, just to check in on iron levels, calcium levels, all that sort of stuff, and I think bar a slight dip in zinc or something like that everything else was perfect.”

Mannion nursed his knee over Christmas after a knock in the Portarlington game but reckons he’ll be fit to line out again on Saturday.

“I got through the game okay and it just kind of flared up a bit then in the following days so I took a week or 10 days off and was able to train last weekend,” he said. “I should be good to go again.”