A good catch

Interview with Alan Mannus for Hoops Scene Issue 6 (Rovers v Bray/Sligo April 2010)

Photo by George Kelly from http://www.shamrockrovers.ie

Shamrock Rovers fans packed the away section to capacity in Hunky Dorys Park in Drogheda last Friday night.  The last few minutes were very enjoyable ones for the Hoops fans who the previous week had celebrated the win over fierce rivals Bohemians with gusto.  With injury time looming and only a goal between the teams, news filtered through that Bohs had lost to an injury time goal.  Meanwhile Gary Twigg latched onto a through ball to round the keeper to score Rovers’ second goal and wrap up the game for the Hoops.  The win in Drogheda was founded on a solid defensive display, a defence which has been improving as the season progresses, something noted by the Rovers goal keeper Alan Mannus when he spoke to Hoops Scene after the game.

“That is four clean sheets in the last five games and obviously that is a reflection of how well the team has done defensively.  The back four in front of me have done really well and I haven’t been that busy apart from maybe the UCD game.  I thought we had a good performance (in Drogheda) and did what we needed to do.  I didn’t really have that much to do and that is down to how well the team, but especially the back four in front of me, defended.  Towards the end of the game, when we were under a bit of pressure winning 1-0, the defenders were throwing themselves in front of Drogheda shots.  It just shows you the determination from the team to get the result.”

The result saw Rovers move up the league table following back to back wins.  This is after a start to the season that was hampered by injuries and suspensions but Mannus wasn’t making any excuses and feels the Rovers squad should be able to cope with missing players.  “We all were obviously delighted with getting a win, keeping a clean sheet and to score two goals was very positive for us.  If you want to do well and have a good season, you need to have a good squad.  We have two players who can play in each position and you need that to have a good season.”

The Rovers keeper knows there is room for improvement and recognises that in his own game when things arise.  “I would know if I could have done something better and I would work on it at training.  After a game is just up, I will think of what I could have done better and make sure I improve on that for the next time.”

Rovers have conceded six goals in the league (only Saint Patrick’s Athletic have conceded less) but the difficulty for the Hoops has been scoring goals with just six goals scored in eight league games.  So the return of last season’s top league goal scorer Gary Twigg to the team in the last two league games has given the whole club, both the fans and players, a lift.  Mannus wasn’t surprised at the impact Twigg had following his absence due to surgery on his calf.  “When he came back into training, we were doing finishing and he just came straight back in and didn’t look like he was out for any time at all.  If you have it, you have it and he has it.  He has an ability to be a goal scorer, that’s what he is, he can finishes things.  It is a boost for the team, other lads can do a job in that position but it is good to have him back.  He showed the other night that it didn’t look like he had been away at all.  He took it around the goalkeeper and did what he usually does, he scores goals”.

Mannus joined Rovers part way through last season and had the task of claiming the Rovers goalkeeper jersey for himself.  “I was aware that Barry (Murphy) was a very popular person and a good goalkeeper.  I knew that Robert Duggan was a good keeper too.  From my point of view, I was offered to go to a good club and have a chance to try and work my way into the team.  Why would I turn it down, when you have a chance to do something like that?  I’m sure that there are plenty of goalkeepers who wouldn’t want to do it because of Barry’s popularity, thinking they wouldn’t get a chance or it being too difficult.  I didn’t really think of it that way.  I saw it as an opportunity to play for a good club and work my way in.  I knew that some people might not be happy about it but that is football.  I focused on positive things, dealt with things and in doing that things have worked out well for me”.

Mannus had a very successful spell as Linfield goalkeeper picking up five Irish League titles and numerous cups (including a Setanta Cup) before he joined Shamrock Rovers.   “There are similarities with the clubs as both are very big clubs and it is good for me to have been part of both of them.  The manager at Linfield would always talk about it being more than a club, it’s like a community, not just a club.  From what I’ve seen at Rovers, it is similar.  Rovers have such a good fan base.  People said that to me before I came down that Rovers were the biggest supported club in all of Ireland.  You can see that whenever we play, at home especially.  For most games the stadium is nearly full where we are getting 4 or 5,000 most of the time.  Then there is the travelling support you get as well.  One of the differences between Linfield and the other Irish League teams , is the supporters will travel.  No matter where you played, you always got a good support going and it seems to be the same with Rovers.  When we play in Sligo or Galway, there is a good travelling crowd going which is a sign of good club and a big club.”

It is a wealth of experience that Mannus has brought with him to Rovers.  He captained Linfield on a number of occasions including in a win over Glentoran which is something he is very proud of!  In addition to winning plenty of trophies, he played 14 games in European competition and gained four international caps.  His strong displays with the Blues in the Irish League, were recognised by Northern Ireland and his appearances included games against the World Champions Italy and against the European Champions Spain. “When I was younger, I never really thought I would get playing for my country.  I wanted to do it but I never thought it would happen.  So to get four caps was very special for me”.   Mannus would like to add to that total.  However, in a situation similar to players from the Airtricity League trying to break into the Republic of Ireland squad, it seems the Northern Ireland  international squad will continue to be filled only with players playing in Britain.  “When the Northern Ireland manager (Nigel Worthington) spoke to me, he said the fact that I’m not in England or Scotland doesn’t help me.  There is not much I can do about that.  He told me I wasn’t completely out of the squad and that he would keep an eye on things and I could get back in again.  All I can do is play well and work hard in training and hopeful they will notice that.  It is a case of even if it is Scottish First Division or League Two in England, they will still chose them ahead of lads in the League of Ireland and the Irish League.  I can’t really complain in that I was involved but now there are some lads who have come through the under 21s into the senior squad”.

This international and European club experience will be utilised later on in the season when Rovers begin their Europa League campaign in the middle of July.  Unsurprisingly Mannus believes that the timing of the games helps teams from the League of Ireland be better placed than teams from Northern Ireland when it comes to the Champions League and Europa League qualifiers.  However, he also thinks the standard of football played here also helps.  “I was very fortunate to be involved in so many European games with Linfield.  I think League of Ireland teams are much more prepared going into the games compared to Irish League teams because of the timing.  With the Irish League, it would typically be a maximum of three weeks pre-season with a couple of games against amateur teams or a Division One team and then you are playing teams like Dynamo Zagreb of Croatia for example.  When we played them, they had just sold Modric for £20 million to Spurs.  What chance do you have of getting through?  We did well when we drew 1-1 away.  Over the past few years League of Ireland teams have done quite well.  One of the reasons is that they are much better prepared as it is the middle of the season.  I think that the style of European football is more similar to the League of Ireland than the Irish League.  They are quite happy to pass the ball about and wait for opportunities while the Irish League is back to front doing things a lot quicker, closing down quicker and going into tackles.  There are other players at Rovers who have played in Europe and it is good to have that experience.  I’m certainly looking forward to playing for Rovers in Europe.”

But before the excitement of European football, it is the league that Mannus is focussing on utilising his experiences from his previous club.  “I was fortunate to be part of some very good teams over my time there and we won a lot of trophies.  Everybody wants to win things and at Rovers that is all we are trying to do.  It is important we don’t get carried away, we’ve won a couple of games and we’ve kept a few clean sheets.  We need to do the usual, focus on the next game, one game at a time, do our best in the next game and try and get a result.  But we obviously want to finish as high as we can.  All we can do is fulfil our potential and if we do that I think we will do quite well.”

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