12 April 2019; SSE Airtricity League Premier Division match between Shamrock Rovers and Waterford at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Photo by George Kelly/Shamrock Rovers FC
Alan Mannus Talks About Sunday’s Final
Alan Mannus made a very welcome return to Shamrock Rovers last year. The 37-year-old goalkeeper is keenly looking forward to Sunday’s big game at the Aviva Stadium.
“Yes, it’s a massive game obviously for us and for the club, all the players and the staff and the supporters; we know what it means to everybody. The league has just finished and we have done quite well. We have played a lot of good football over the course of the year and had some good performances and some good wins, some good games in Europe and big nights that were good to be involved in; games we will remember for a long time. Now we have a few days to get ready for the Cup final against a very good team in Dundalk; we will do what we need to do to get ready for it.”
Ever since the semi-final defeat of Bohemians it seems most of the talk amongst the fan base has been about the final. With second place in the table well wrapped up and Europe again secured for next year, the fans were well into cup final mood even with the final game of the season at home to Cork City to be played. It seemed that game was almost being overlooked by the fans. Another year when a place in the FAI Cup Final hadn’t been secured that last home game would have been a much bigger affair so fans as the fans were concerned. But what of the squad? Did they too see the end of the league as somewhat of an anti-climax?
“I didn’t think about it in terms of it being an anti-climax or not”, said Mannus. “It’s a game that you play and you go out and try and perform, you try to get a good result; there was a lot of incentive for us to try and go out and get a good result. People were telling us about the clean sheet record that we were wanting to beat from last year and as a team we wanted to do that, to be part of a team that created a new record for the club and we still wanted to finish with a good performance.
“Everyone is trying to show what they can to do to be in the team for Sunday, we still want to be in good form in terms of how we played and also in getting good results coming in to the Cup final and it wouldn’t have done us any good to have taken our foot off the pedal and get beat by Cork in our last game before the final. Maybe a lot of people’s eyes were on this week but we were very much focussed on our last league game.”
Sunday won’t be ‘Big Al’s’ first appearance for the Hoops at the Aviva Stadium. He was there before, when, having won the Premier Division under Michael O’Neill for the first time since 1994, he and his teammates were attempting to capture the double. It didn’t go positively for the Hoops with Sligo Rovers winning on penalties. Just as with this year, that was a big occasion then too. What does Mannus remember of the days leading into the game? “I can’t really remember the build up to the game in 2010, that was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. I remember we stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights and trained there but I can’t remember much else.”
He hasn’t given much thought to the actual game since either. “I don’t really think about it. As I said, it was a long time ago, it’s nine years and a lot has happened since then. I’ve been fortunate to have played a lot of games between then and now and I haven’t thought about it at all.”
Stepping out at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday before kick-off is going to be a moment to saviour for Mannus and his Hoops’ teammates. It’s something every one of them are looking forward to. It has been a good season for Rovers who have played an attractive brand of football throughout. “I’m looking forward to it and I really want us, as everybody does, to show what we can do. We’ve had a lot of really good performances this year and it was mentioned on Friday night that some of the best football that has been played at this club and for me to have been a part of that is a big thing playing in this sort of style of football that we do play in terms of possession as it’s something quite different to what I had been involved in before in terms of been involved with teams that were probably more direct and not focussing on keeping possession which is something that I have tried really hard at and to not be a weak link in the teams. I’ve really enjoyed that side of it. We have some really good players in the team and it has been good to a part of some of the performances.”
Dundalk almost have a season ticket for FAI Cup Final day. They have been there for the past four years. Some commentators regard them as being the favourites but that’s not something that bothers Mannus. “I don’t know. I don’t care who the favourites are in terms of betting and things like that. I’ve never betted on anything in my life so I have not paid attention to what odds come up for teams and things like that. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who thinks who is the favourite as anything can happen and it doesn’t mean whatever people say coming into the game, it doesn’t affect anything.”
One thing is for sure though. Both sides will feel some pressure and probably all of the players will get those butterflies in their stomachs coming up to the game and before kick-off. Everyone experiences this before a major event and no matter how experienced or how long a player has been playing it doesn’t change. Mannus is no exception. “I still get that feeling that I’ve probably always had. I think that when I don’t get that feeling before games maybe it will be time for me to call it a day. I still get that feeling before a game, sort of anticipation, whatever it is you want to call it, where you have those highs. People who have been fortunate enough to play in these kind of games and play at this level will know what I am talking about. I still get that feeling before the game that I have had throughout my career. I still get that build up to the game; you still have the highs after the game when you win and when you do well and you still have the lows whenever things don’t go well so it’s still something that is important to me.”
The top priority for any goalkeeper in every game he plays is to not concede a goal. Alan Mannus’ record this season between the posts is something he can be rightly proud of but he is quick to not accept all of the credit. “I am very happy with the clean sheets. It’s not just me though, it’s the whole team, particularly the back three or back four or back five, whatever way you want to look at it that is in front of me, they have all been excellent. There’s been a lot of games where I haven’t had a lot to do and that shows how well they have done but we do put an emphasis on trying to keep a clean sheet and we think if we do that we will have quite a good chance of winning because we know we have people who can score goals. In terms of the season there’s been a lot of things that I have been happy with. As I say, it’s new for me to be part of a team that has a lot of focus on keeping possession and starting things as opposed to just going longer and that’s something we have worked hard on in training and with the goalkeeper coach Jose and something I have worked on trying to be better at and hopefully I am doing an ok job with it. In terms of other things, there’s things I have been happy with in terms of saves and that that I haven’t been as happy with, some of the goals, but I guess that’s just the way it is for life as a goalkeeper and you just have to get on with things.”
Finally, the fantastic support from the stands throughout the season has undoubtedly provided a boost to the squad. When it comes to providing noise and colour the Hoops’ fans are second to none in the League of Ireland. “I don’t think I need to say anything (to the fans) because they know what to do themselves. They have always done that in the games that we have had like the European games at home where the noise was just unbelievable and that really helped to spur us on. Talking to some of the supporters on Saturday morning I know how much it means to them and we know what kind of noise they are going to make. It is obvious to see that we have the best support in the league and especially when you look at the away games like Cork, Derry City or Sligo where other teams don’t bring anything like what we bring, a lot of the time our fans are louder that what the home fans would be at these away grounds. We know we are going to have a lot of people there on Sunday for the Cup final and that they will be making a lot of noise to get us going.”