There are a few places in Mayo that no club like going to because they know it’s going to be very hard to come out of there with anything — McGovern Park in Newport is one of them.
And one reason that sides find it hard to come out of there with a result is a man who has been patrolling the middle of the field for the home side for 21 years now. Colm McManamon has been a loyal and dedicated servant to both club and county for all his life since he was a teenager.
The Burrishoole legend was a mainstay of John Maughan’s Mayo side in the 1990s but it could all have been very different, if tragedy hadn’t intervened in his life. While the recruitment of young players from Ireland by AFL clubs has become a hot topic in the last few years here, back in 1989 Colm Mac, as he was known to Mayo supporters through the 1990s, was a trailblazer in this area.
The compromise rules games of the 1980s had raised awareness of the Australian game here, and back in 1989 a young McManamon packed his bags and headed to the second oldest club in the AFL, Geelong, in the Victoria region of the country.
“I went over to Australia in 1989 and had signed a deal with Geelong for a year, but then my father suddenly died and I came home and that was that for me.” Looking back on his time in Australia and the current situation where young players are being offered deals to go out there, McManamon says he wouldn’t hold it against any young lad who goes out there to try his luck.
“Every young lad is entitled to take his chance, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who wants to go and try their luck out there.” Coming home and not going back out isn’t something that McManamon regrets himself, as he explained.
“I did think about it and going back was tempting. But after I came back it was after the 1989 All Ireland final and I had some goals set for myself back here, and John O’Mahony, who was the Mayo manager at the time, brought me into the squad and I played in the first league game of the 1990 season against Tyrone. I thought that we had a good shout of getting to another All-Ireland final within maybe one or two years and I wanted to be involved in that.”
Still motoring on
McManamon’s longevity in the game is something he puts down to luck in not picking up serious injuries and his appetite for the game. “I was very lucky that I never really picked up any serious injuries, bar one or two knee problems, which I was very grateful for, because you do see lads who at 26 and 27 pick up serious injuries and have to give up the game, but I was lucky I managed to escape that.
“ still really enjoy playing football, there will be enough time when the body gives up on you that you’ll be stuck on the sideline so I’ll keep going as long as my body lets me.”
Playing senior club football for 21 years is something that any player could be proud of, but when you throw into the mix that McManamon was a senior inter-county football for 12 of those years it makes his achievement even more remarkable.
“I would have just turned 16 the first time that I played for the senior side in Burrishoole and still to this day I enjoy it. We lost there last weekend, but the club is where you’re from and you do your all for the people you grew up with and play with.” At the turn of the century Burrishoole got themselves to the Mayo senior county final but lost out by three points to a Crossmolina side who were in the process of building towards winning an All-Ireland championship in 2001, a game where McManamon and his side just missed out on creating history for the west Mayo side.
“We did really well getting to the final that year, it was a great achievement for a rural club to get there. But we came up against a side that were full of quality players and we just lost out to them, but they were a great side.”
Within touching distance
While the club is always home, it was on the inter-county scene where McManamon came to national attention in the mid 1990s during John Maughan’s first tenure in charge of the side and Colm tasted heartbreak two years in a row, losing out to Meath after a replay in 1996 and then to Kerry the following year.
“We sort of did come from nowhere in 1996. We had been on a bit of a downer for a couple of years, then John came in and things just sort of clicked for us. We were playing in division three of the league and we got to a semi-final where we lost to Derry in Croke Park.
“After that John took us on a holiday, well I say holiday but it was a a lot of hard work on the training field and that set us up good for the rest of the year. We started off in London where we didn’t play great but got out with the win, we went on then and had a bit of luck against Roscommon and Galway in the Connacht final and then on to Kerry in the semi-final. We were very unfortunate in the final, as everyone knows it was a hop of a ball right at the end that sent the game to the replay but it just wasn’t to be.”
The group of players that John Maughan assembled gave their all for the county, according to McManamon, and one he was delighted to have been involved with. “They were a great bunch of lads and a really good squad, we all put in everything we had into it, there was a great squad spirit at the time and we just came up a bit short at the end.”
Still doing the business on the field for the club is something that McManamon enjoys but he’s also trying to take care of the future of the game in his club. “I’ve been looking after the u14 side for the past couple of years, it’s great and I really enjoy it. It’s important that we all put our bit back into the clubs because they gave you your start in the game and you want to see it continue.”
When the day finally comes that he hangs up the boots, will McManamon throw his hat into the ring as a manager with a senior side? He doesn’t know about that. “Well I’d say when I do stop playing, I’ll take a year or two out from the game, but you never know what will happen.”