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'There were probably times where I thought I'd never play with Galway again'

Galway and Padraic Mannion take on the Dubs in O’Connor Park tomorrow.

HE’S WING-BACK on one of hurling’s elite teams, but at underage level Galway’s Padraic Mannion was never earmarked for greatness.

Padraig Mannion dejected Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He hails from Ahascragh-Fohenagh, a parish that didn’t have a regular representative on the Galway senior hurling team since the days of Tim Sweeney in the 1950s.

He attended county trials at U14 and U16 but failed to make the cut.

“I didn’t play much with Galway underage,” Mannions tells The42. ”When I was younger I used to be watching All-Ireland finals and you’d always be dreaming about playing in them. I don’t know if I ever really believed I’d be there.

“I was a bit of a late developer. I would have been at trials in U14 and U16 but I don’t think I was good enough at the time. I don’t think I wanted it enough to make it either.”

Alongside his brother Cathal, who’s 18 months his junior, Mannion lifted the Connacht junior C title with his school St Cuan’s in 2009. The following year, the brothers helped Ahascragh-Fohenagh to the minor B county title.

That put Padraic on the radar for Mattie Murphy and the county minors. It wasn’t a bad year to make the breakthrough.

Tony Kelly and Padraic Mannion Mannion tackles Tony Kelly in the 2011 All-Ireland minor semi-final Source: James Crombie

The Tribesmen swept all before them and hammered Dublin by 1-21 to 1-12 in the decider at Croke Park. The Dublin team that day featured names like Eric Lowndes, Cian O’Callaghan, Chris Crummey, Colm Cronin, Ciaran Kilkenny, Conor McHugh, Emmet Ó Conghaile and Cormac Costello.

Mannion gave an impressive display at corner-back in a defence that boasted future seniors Paul Killeen, Adrian Tuohy and John Hanbury. Padraig Brehony, Jason Flynn, Jonny Glynn and Shane Maloney would also go on to become members of Michael Donoghue’s senior set-up.

Both counties meet tomorrow in the Leinster SHC quarter-final and while a raft of players from the minor class of 2011 would go on to bolster Donoghue’s ranks, the likes of Eric Lowndes, Ciaran Kilkenny, Conor McHugh and Cormac Costello are part of Jim Gavin’s football squad.

“We won the All-Ireland that year and it gives you the confidence you can push on,” continues Mannion.

“I had a good year with the U21s the year after the minor. The next two years U21 I struggled big time and it was very frustrating.”

Cathal Mannion Cathal Mannion in action for Galway Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Mannion couldn’t shake a persistant back problem and, while Cathal made his senior debut for the county in 2014, Padraic was left looking on from the sidelines.

“I suffered injury for two years and I didn’t play much hurling. I was on the U21 panel the year after minor but then I didn’t play after that. I had a prolapsed disk in my back that kept me out.

“There were probably times where I thought I’d never play with Galway again.

“I had a bad posture and my core probably wasn’t strong enough. Doing loads of training on top of that it was just a wear and tear injury really. It was difficult to come right after but I stuck at it, kept doing the rehab and eventually got back.

“You’ve to make sure sure you’ve a bit of strength in your core, glutes and quads. You’ve to make sure you’ve them so you’re able to take the load and it’s not going straight through your back.

“It’s always in my mind that I’ve to mind myself a bit. I wouldn’t be standing under a squatting rack and going too heavy. Thankfully I’m on top of it at the moment, but it’s always there at the back of your mind. You have to keep it at bay.”

Padraic Mannion Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Mannion joined his brother on the senior panel in 2015 and would start at corner-back in an All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny that year, despite enduring a few testing games along the way.

The 24-year-old has established himself on a phsyically imposing half-back line alongside Aidan Harte and Gearoid McInerney.

“There’s a bit of consistency in the team. The key is the lads on the sideline. The last day John Hanbury was off for Paul Killeen and it didn’t make one bit of difference to us.

“There’s any number of lads that can come in if you’re not up to scratch at training. The team’s settled but on any given day anyone can be on. You need that in any team.”

After suffering two injury-plauged years, Mannion is well aware of how fleeting a career in the inter-county game can be.

“You have to treat every year like it could be your last and don’t be thinking, ‘Jeez we’ve a team here now that will be great two or three years’ time.’ Because you don’t know what’s going to happen down line.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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