Sideline Chat with Noel Mannion

Noel Mannion is one of Galway's most celebrated rugby players of the amateur era, playing for club, province and country - Ballinalsoe, Buccaneers, Corinthians, Lansdowne, Connacht and Ireland.

At what age did you start playing rugby: I was nine, it was for Ballinasloe RFC/Community Games.

Do you remember your first game? I think it was versus Clifden in the above competition.

Ideal position and why? Across the back row as you were always in the thick of the action.

Who inspired you? My older brother Jack played rugby and he really got me into it. Garbally College had a huge influence on me and in my development, in conjunction with Ballinasloe. Player-wise I was a huge fan of the late Willie Duggan and New Zealand No 8 Murray Mexted.

Did you always aspire to play at the top level? As I got older, around age 20, I realised that I could compete at a higher level. It is the dream of all sports people to play for their country - the ultimate goal.

What do you particularly like about your sport? I liked the physical confrontation on the pitch and friendships off it.

Greatest influence/role model? I was lucky enough to be coached and advised by a lot of people, it would be unfair to single one out.

Biggest challenge? It was in the non professional era, so combining work and play. In those days you were working, but still expected to train five days a week, in addition to weight training etc.

Greatest success/achievement? To be honest I did not win a huge amount playing wise in terms of trophies, but my first cap was huge for me - against Samoa in 1988. To be part of the Buccaneers RFC journey when the AIL was king was also huge.

Favourite memory? Playing against the All Blacks twice in one week for Connacht and Ireland? It was a great honour to play New Zealand, but to play them twice was massive. I played them in Galway on Tuesday and then on Saturday in Dublin - it would be unheard of now in the professional era. At club level, playing with Buccaneers, our promotion from division two to one was massive in 1997/98. Galwegians had been automatically promoted, and we had to play-off home and away against Dungannon. We lost the home leg and won away, but our aggregate score was better. It was huge for the club, hundreds of supporters travelling - it was the essence of the amateur club game at its best.

Strengths/weaknesses? As a player my commitment.

If not your sport, what sport would you want to play? Gaelic Football. I grew up playing Gaelic Football from April to September. In 1987 I played for Galway when I came back from Australia, and really enjoyed it.

Are you still involved in the sport? Yes, I do a small bit of coaching here in Ballinasloe.

What do you do to relax? Walk the dog

Favourite sports person? I am an admirer of the Dublin Senior Football team.

Best/worst aspect of lockdown? I miss meeting friends.


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