'Everything he does is an inspiration to step forward and try to get to where he's gone'

Ronan Manning on admiration for his brother Ryan and preparing for today’s FAI Cup semi-final.

Ronan Manning is preparing for the FAI Cup semi-final today, while brother Ryan recently made his Ireland debut.
Ronan Manning is preparing for the FAI Cup semi-final today, while brother Ryan recently made his Ireland debut.

IT’S A BIG day for Ronan Manning, perhaps the biggest of his young career so far.

The 20-year-old is set to feature in the FAI Cup semi-final, as Athlone Town host Dundalk (kick-off: 7.05pm).

Manning’s side are clearly the underdogs. Whereas Dundalk have finished third in the Premier Division and are in the middle of competing in the Europa League group stages, Athlone concluded their season second from bottom in the First Division table.

A dreadful start saw the team fail to win any of their first 11 matches, before they gradually improved as the season developed.

While a ninth-place finish does not suggest a team in rude health, Manning believes progress has been made.

The 15 points they accumulated in an 18-game season was only three fewer than they managed in the 27-match campaign last year.

In recent seasons, with the club marred by financial problems and other off-field controversies, results on the field have more often than not been similarly dismal.

After getting relegated from the top flight in 2014, their supporters have had little to cheer about, as they have regularly struggled towards the bottom of the First Division.

Finishes in 2015 (33 points), 2016 (14 points), 2017 (17 points), 2018 (7 points) suggested a club on a downward spiral.

Nevertheless, this year, there have been encouraging signs, as Manning explains.

“At the start of it, we struggled to get some wins even though we were playing good football,” he says.

“We were in the games until the end, it was just losing them 1-0 and 2-0. But we picked it up towards the end of the season.”

Almost certainly the highlight so far has been last month’s FAI Cup quarter-final. The Town left Shelbourne, who were in the top flight at the time, stunned amid a 4-1 victory.

“Shels saw Athlone down at the bottom of the table [and thought] ‘this should be an easy enough quarter-final,’ but that table doesn’t really reflect how good of a side we are.

“It was a big shock to us all going into that. They were a Premier side, no one really gave us a chance, but we all showed up on the day and that’s all we really can do. It showed that once we all do show up, anything can happen.” 

From an individual perspective, there has been plenty of positives too for Manning, who has registered nine goals and seven assists this season.

The young attacking midfielder describes the campaign as his “best so far”.

As they prepare for their first FAI Cup semi-final appearance, since a Liam Buckley-managed side emulated that feat in 1998, Manning says he is confident the team can cause an upset.

I suppose you have to be. We can’t go into the game thinking Dundalk are going to turn us over and we’re going to get destroyed. We just have to go in with a good attitude, stay in the game as long as we can and hope we can pick up a bit of luck.

“It would be massive [to reach the final]. I’ve just gone 20 this year, getting to an FAI Cup semi-final. Not many people get there, especially when you’re a First Division side, you never really see that.”

Manning is not even the only one in his family currently experiencing an exciting point in his football career.

Like him, brother Ryan began his senior career playing in the First Division at Galway United. After some impressive performances, a move to QPR followed, and he subsequently established himself in the Championship, before completing a transfer to rivals Swansea City earlier this year.

Ryan, who is four years older than Ronan, also made his Ireland debut against Bulgaria in the Nations League match earlier this month.

“Everything he does is an inspiration to step forward and try to get to where he’s gone,” says Ronan, when asked about his brother. “Hopefully, I can replicate some of the stuff he’s done in football.”

On the momentous occasion at the Aviva Stadium, Ronan adds: “It was unbelievable. It was a pity we couldn’t be in the stadium to watch it. But I guess seeing it on TV was good, better than nothing. It was a real proud day for the family, seeing him put on the Irish jersey and make his debut.”

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While his focus is purely on Athlone right now, Ronan dreams of emulating Ryan and earning a move abroad some day.

“I’d like to. I think with that bit of luck and a couple more seasons under my belt, I could get there. But I have to put my head down, keep working hard, and hopefully something might happen for me.”

Manning credits Athlone boss Adrian Carberry and his assistant Declan Considine for playing a big part in his development.

After a stint at Galway didn’t work out, Manning admits he was considering his future in football.

“I was just more kind of falling out of love with the game. I wasn’t really enjoying the sessions going in there [at Galway], it just wasn’t the way I usually play my football and I wasn’t enjoying it. I took a step back, got my head together, I went over to visit Ryan a lot and just assessed what I want to do. 

“Last year [with Athlone] was just tough. They trained up in Dublin and I wasn’t driving at the time, so it was tough getting up and down to training.

I ended up leaving Athlone last year, and joining Mervue. Mervue were massive for me, I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me. They got me back into football and that’s when Adrian rang me. 

“[Adrian] believed in me, gave me that chance and I like to think I repaid him now this year with the games I put in, getting some goals and assists. So I can only thank him and Deccie for what they’ve done for me.”

And did spending time with his older brother in England help spur him on?

“I was living the footballer’s lifestyle for a while when I was over with him. So it is definitely a real ambition and it gives you good drive to try to get to [his level].”

Manning is now driving, while the club’s training sessions have been re-located to Athlone. Having experienced some setbacks in his career, he extolls the virtues of having patience as a young player.

“From my experience, things go bad, you just have to not let it get to you, or go to your head. 

“Football’s a mad game like that where everything can change overnight.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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