Galway’s talented right half-back Pádraig Mannion is genuinely looking forward to Sunday.
The 24-year-old student teacher knows it will take a huge performance to defeat Waterford, but it is a challenge he and his teammates are relishing.
If he is nervous, or feeling the pressure of an upcoming All-Ireland final Sunday, the Ahascragh-Fohenagh man hides it well.
As he explains, there is expectation every time you tog out.
“Any game you go out in, there is pressure to perform. And there is pressure every year, especially if you get to an All Ireland final,” he says.
“There is expectation on both teams this Sunday. Waterford have pressure too. They have been knocking on the door for a few years now and they will be going to Croke Park on Sunday to win, the same as us.
“Hopefully the experience our lads have - from the finals in 2012 and 2015 - will be a help this weekend. At the end of the day, you have to put all the hype aside and go out and play your 70 minutes of hurling. When it is all stripped away, it is just a game of hurling, same as any other one.”
Constant improvement the mantra
Despite Galway’s display in the win over Tipperary in the semi-final, Mannion believes there is plenty of scope for improvement.
“There are lots of things we can improve on from the last day. From the outside people might think it was a very good performance, but we know there are things we will need to be better at on Sunday.
“We will take a lot of confidence from the semi-final and how we finished it out. That might not have always happened in the past. We showed a lot of composure and we will take confidence from that. However, we know we will need a top class display to beat Waterford, and they will pose different challenges for us than Tipp did.”
Mannion says there were lessons learned from the last occasion.
“Two years ago in the final we were doing OK, but we did not close things out. Our composure has improved hopefully and that should be a help on Sunday. You have to keep playing for the 74 or 75 minutes that it takes to get the job done.
“This year we have a really balanced team, and on Sunday we will need a massive team performance. We are trying for a perfect performance, or as close to that as we can get, and if we get that we will be very happy.”
An honour to know Tony Keady
Pádraig got to know the late Tony Keady earlier this year as Keady was part of the Ahascragh/Fohenagh club management team for 2017, and Mannion takes a lot from Keady’s positive attitude to the big days.
“We had a new club management team this year with Tony [Keady] involved, and his death after the Tipp game brought us all back down to earth fairly quick. I think we can learn a lot from him. Tony and his family have definitely been on our minds over the past few weeks and when we take the field at Croke Park this weekend we will be trying to play like he used to, when he played for Galway on the big days.”
Keady had a great sense of humour which Pádraig enjoyed.
“Tony would be laughing at me in the gym out in Ahsacragh before training. He’d be saying that we were doing too much gym work.
“I don’t think they had too much of that in their day. There are big changes when you consider the amount of games you play now versus then. I would be slagging him about how few games they played to win their All-Irelands, and he said back to me with a grin - ‘10 or 12 games is better than 10 years of shit’.
“I was really honoured I got to know Tony - he wore the maroon jersey with a smile on his face and he embraced the big occasion. Coming up to a game like Sunday you shouldn’t see the hype as a negative, but something to be embraced and enjoyed. We need to enjoy it, but focus on our hurling, that is what matters at the end of the day.
“When Tony played in those All-Irelands in 1987 and 1988 he showed us how to embrace the occasion, have belief in yourselves and realise how lucky you are to be playing in games like this.
“Things have changed a lot in the last 30 years, but the principles have stayed the same. Embrace the hype and then let your hurling do the talking. Work hard to get the better of your man all the time. You can always go back to the roots of the game and they are the same. The basics don’t change.”
Next Sunday will be a proud day for the Mannion family with two brothers involved.
“It is something we would have dreamed about when we were growing up. It is nice to have a brother on the team, but the only thing that will matter really is that we win the game
“It is a long time since we [Galway]won an All-Ireland final and that is something we are hoping to change. As regards Cathal, you don’t really look at him as a brother when you are training. We are just two players and you definitely wouldn’t be holding back if you were marking him at training or anything that’s for sure. For the parents especially though, Sunday will be a proud day. “
Mannion’s desire to make the most of his chances has been heightened by a nasty back injury which impeded his progress to the the senior set up.
“I played minor in 2011 and U21 in 2012, but then I suffered from a prolapsed disc in my back. I missed two years of possible U21 action with that injury. Thankfully our physio Dave Hanley is top class and he has been hugely helpful in getting me back playing injury free.
“I was too young to go for surgery then and I have to keep managing things - to keep it at bay. We have a great medical team now. They will get you right in a short space of time and we are lucky to have such good people in the background in our medical team.”
Mannion is happy at wing-back, having started his career with Galway in the corner.
“I started off in the corner, but I was playing half back line with the club and saw what it was like out there. I prefer it to be honest. While it is a cliché, you would take any jersey you are being given at this stage. There is a lot of competition for starting jerseys, so you are just glad to get one and try and do your best for the team wearing it.”
Outside of hurling life is good too and Pádraig has gone down the teaching road. He is currently doing his master’s in education at NUIG after completing his primary degree in civil engineering.
“I always had teaching in the back of my mind as a career. I did my teaching hours in St Cuan’s in Castleblakeney over the past year and it is a lovely school with a really tight knit community between staff and students. I really enjoyed my first year teaching and it is a career that really appeals to me.”