'Probably the best day of my career': Irish photographer wins at World Press Photo awards

Ray McManus on his photo ‘Scrum Half’, which won second prize sports singles at World Press Photo 2012 today.

‘Scrum Half’, McManus’ award-winning photo (Ray McManus / Sportsfile)

IT WAS AN afternoon that started with a mistake and ended with an award-winning photo.

For sports photographer Ray McManus, it was just another day’s work.

Today, McManus won the second prize sports singles at the 2012 World Press Photo contest, the world’s most prestigious annual photojournalism competition. His photo ‘Scrum Half’ is a snapshot of a familiar scenario for those who play on Ireland’s rain-sodden amateur rugby pitches week after week.

Taken last February on Dublin’s Anglesea Road, the still shows Blackrock’s Conor Crowley covered in mud, playing the ball from the back of a ruck during the second half of an AIL match against Old Belvedere. Old Belvedere won 10-9 in a game which few will remember but which has been captured in history by McManus’ photo.

“You wouldn’t generally know that you have taken a picture like that at the time,” McManus says, speaking to as news of his win sunk in this afternoon.

“You just go and do your work. I think I just got back into the car and transmitted some of the photos back to the office. It’s not a big deal.

“It’s like you interviewing me now,” he adds. “When you’re doing it, it’s all you’re thinking about, but when it’s done, you just move on to the next one.”

The brutal conditions at the game that day are obvious from the photo, but McManus assures me that it wasn’t as bad as it looks. If anyone would know, it’s him.

That same afternoon, the Irish national team travelled to the much sunnier climes of the Stadio Flaminio to play Italy in the Six Nations and, as a result, the game on Anglesea Road was pushed back from 2.3opm to 4.15pm to avoid a clash.

Forgetting about the change, McManus arrived at the ground at 1.30pm to set himself up to shoot the game only to realise his mistake.

Four hours later, he’d captured a photo that would come out among the select few from the 101,254 images submitted this year by 5,247 photographers from 124 countries. McManus will travel to Amsterdam in April for this year’s awards ceremony, after which the winning entries will go on display in a public exhibition.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling to be judged second best in the world. If I’d been judged 10th best, I would’ve been delighted, so to be second best is incredible.

“It may have just been another day’s work, but it’s probably the best day of my career.”

If it’s a big deal for McManus, it’s an even bigger deal for Sportsfile, the Dublin-based photo agency which he founded back in the 1980s. Over the years, Sportsfile have been prolific winners at the AIB PPAI Photojournalism Awards, but the agency has started made its mark on the world stage of late.

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Today’s award for McManus is in fact the third prize which Sportsfile photographers have won at the World Press Photo over the past four years. In 2009, Paul Mohan won the first prize sports action and the very next year, his colleague Pat Murphy second prize sports action.

“We’re relatively small in world terms; a small fish in a very big pond,” McManus says. “It’s phenomenal that our work has been noted and for three of us to have won awards in four years.”

So what does one do to mark such a huge professional achievement?

“Well, you’ll find me in Parnell Park at two o’clock tomorrow [for the All-Ireland senior club hurling semi-final].

“Sunday, I’ll be down in Pearse Stadium in Galway.”

Just another day’s work.

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Niall Kelly

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