Two centuries not out: Ross Munnelly’s extraordinary longevity
The enduring presence of the Laois forward may well count again against Cork at Semple Stadium
Laois’s Ross Munnelly and Cian Donohoe of Offaly in their round three championship qualifiers at Portlaoise. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Both Laois and Cork must be acutely aware of the possibilities that Saturday’s fourth round football qualifier presents, and there are other more subtle rewards on offer too.
They meet for the first time in the championship but share a recent history: Laois haven’t reached the quarter-final stage since 2012, Cork since 2014, the new Super 8s format offering up the chance for at least three additional games.
For Laois forward Ross Munnelly that would also present the chance to further extend his already extraordinary senior career, which began as a 20-year old in 2003 under then manager Mick O’Dwyer, the year Laois last won the Leinster football title, their first since 1946.
Now aged 36, and in his 17th senior season, Munnelly has made more than two centuries’ worth of appearances between the league, championship, and the O’Byrne Cup. If he starts or comes on during Saturday’s game at Semple Stadium it will mark his 204th appearance in all, and his 78th in the championship, coming on the back of 103 league appearances.
That already puts him in highly esteemed company, and all the more impressive considering Munnelly never got to play beyond the quarter-final stage of the football championship during those previous 16 seasons with Laois.
Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, in his 19th senior season, is now out on his own in the championship, making his 100th appearance in the Leinster semi-final win over Kildare last month; the next highest is Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh, who retired in 2017 with 89 championship appearances, followed by the Ó Sé brothers from Kerry, Tomás and Marc, on 88 each – all of whom, like Cluxton, regularly played beyond the quarter-final stage.
Indeed Laois have only reached the single-match quarter-final stage four times during his playing days – in 2012, and also 2003, 2005, and 2006.
Munnelly is also currently the oldest outfield player left in championship football, along with Mayo’s Andy Moran and Monaghan’s Vinny Corey.
Coming into this summer his 75 championship appearances were all consecutive. He didn’t feature in the Leinster quarter-final win over Westmeath, but played in both semi-final loss to Meath, and the round-three qualifier win over Offaly last Saturday, where he scored 0-2.
Still the actual playing rewards have been few and far between, that sole Leinster title in 2003, plus an All-Star nomination in 2006. He also made three panels with Ireland during the International Rules series with Australia, and helped his club, Arles-Kilcruise, to that one and only Laois county title, also back in 2003.
“I don’t think motivation should be a problem with any player,” Munnelly said in an interview with this paper back in 2005, and there’s nothing to suggest his motivation has been a problem in all the years since.
“You train eight months of the year to be involved in football at this time of the year, and whenever you’re still involved in the championship there’s always an incentive left there.”
Still such extraordinary longevity often goes unnoticed given the GAA doesn’t yet have an up-to-date central database for such playing or even scoring statistics, leaving it instead to ardent supporters of the game, including the Laois GAA Bible on Twitter.
Back in March they pointed out that Munnelly had made 100th league appearance, in the fifth round of Division Three against Longford, almost exactly 16 years to the day after making his first league appearance against Down. He wasn’t due to feature that day until O’Dwyer added him to the team sheet shortly before the game.
Since that match Laois had played a total of 118 games in the league, and Munnelly played in 100 of them; he also started in 82 of those games and scored in 80, amassing a total of 7-227, again thanks to the Laois GAA Bible.
Laois manager John Sugrue didn’t just bring Munnelly on board again this year to extend that playing record. “I only really learned after the game that this was his 100th game and thank God we didn’t take him off,” he said after that Longford game in March.
Given what’s at stake in Semple Stadium on Saturday, the enduring presence of Munnelly may well count yet again.