Home > Shamrock Rovers Player Interviews for programme > Mannus: A Man for all seasons

Mannus: A Man for all seasons

In Alan Mannus, Shamrock Rovers have the best goalkeeper currently plying their trade in the League of Ireland. Last season, in addition to his league winners medal, both his own peers in the Professional Footballer’s Association of Ireland (PFAI) and the Sports Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) voted him their goalkeeper of the year. The Rovers keeper is certainly the most decorated player at the club with six league titles, four cups and a couple of Setanta Cups collected in his time playing in both the League of Ireland and Irish League. These trophies have meant Mannus has been involved in several campaigns in the various European competitions including last year’s trip to Israel and Italy with the Hoops. Ahead of the kick off of Rovers’ 2011 Champions League campaign against FC Flora Tallinn, Hoops Scene chatted with Alan Mannus to get his thoughts on last year’s Europa League games as well the challenges of retaining Shamrock Rovers’ league title.

Bnei Yehuda was the opposition for Shamrock Rovers in their opening Europa League fixture last season. Rovers drew the first leg in Tallaght Stadium before travelling out to Tel Aviv for the second leg. “I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in quite a few European games in my time playing and it is the one that sticks out the most,” recalled Mannus of the trip to Israel. “We were drawing 1-1 before we went over and nobody expected us to get through. After the first game, the draw was made so we knew that if we got through we would be playing Juventus. Outside of the team and obviously the Rovers fans, everyone else didn’t expect us to do it and didn’t want us to do it probably.”

In the game in Tel Aviv, Mannus pulled off a string of top class saves that drew appreciative cheers from the Rovers fans that made the trip to the Holy Land. Those back in Ireland, watching the live internet stream on their home computer or maybe in one of the hotels showing the game in Tallaght, were also cheering the saves which eventually set up Rovers to win the game when Thomas Stewart scored sending Rovers through 2-1 on aggregate. “It is probably the most memorably trip I’ve been on,” admits Mannus, “due most importantly to the result and not only that but also the country as I had never been to Israel before. It was a great experience to be there. It was great how we got on as a team. The feeling afterwards in the changing room is something I will never forget. We came in and we knew we had done pretty much the impossible and we were going to play Juventus after that. I will always remember that and it is great to be part of games like that.”

The clean sheet and away goal in Israel meant that just one week later the players from the grand old lady of Italian football, Juventus, were being greeted by Rovers mascot Hooperman as they entered Tallaght Stadium. In front of the live TV cameras, it only took Juventus 3 minutes to take the lead but it would take another 72 for them to get the only other goal of the game. “I thought we did quite well,” said the 29 year old keeper. “The goal sort of killed us a wee bit with it being so early but we were always going to be up against it. We just wanted to put in a good performance. We were pretty proud afterwards. It was a great experience and great for the squad of players to be playing against them and to bring them to Tallaght Stadium for the supporters after only being there for a quite short amount of time playing in the stadium.”

The second leg was played in monsoon like rain in Modena in front of a sizeable Juventus crowd and around 900 or so sodden Shamrock Rovers fans. “I thought it would have been called off if it had have been any other situation really,” recalls Mannus. “If it had been a league game in the League of Ireland it would have been called off I think. I suppose they wanted to play with everyone travelling over. We went out in the warm up, me, Pat Jennings, and the goalkeeper coach Tim Dalton and we were standing out in the rain looking at each other, smiling and saying you have to love playing this game, you have to love football and being a goalkeeper! It made it difficult for both teams and you could see it with them that they couldn’t pass it as much as they probably would have done if it hadn’t been those conditions. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves and we kept it 0-0 for over seventy minutes.”

It was only on the 74th minute mark that the teams could be separated and it took a moment of magic from the Juventus record goal scorer and appearance maker Alessandro Del Piero. It needed to be something special to beat Alan Mannus on the night and the Italian international’s free kick from all of 35 yards was certainly that. “I’ve never had a free kick hit against me like that before and I probably never will again!” Mannus said ruefully. “He is a world class player isn’t he and that’s what can happen.”

In Rovers’ last domestic football outing here at Tallaght Stadium, they beat Saint Patrick’s Athletic to go back top of the league and end the visitors’ 14 game unbeaten streak. In the early Sunday afternoon sunshine, it was another clean sheet for Mannus and his team and he was very pleased with the whole experience. “It was a good performance against a team that at the time were above us in the league. Pats are a good team and are going to be challenging like a number of other teams are going to be. The fact that we were at home it was important that we gave a good performance and got a result that we know we are capable of. I thought we did that, we defended very well and we didn’t give them many chances. We were very solid at the back and we might have scored a couple more and the goal we scored was probably the best goal of the season so far.”

That goal saw Gary Twigg net his 10th league goal of the season as he ended an impressive 16 pass move to score. “You don’t tend to see too many goals like that with so many passes,” admits Mannus, “and not just passes but the movement which created space for other people. It will be one of the best ones of the season as it involved most of the team.”

The match was played in front of a crowd of over 5,000 and the goalkeeper could enjoy the atmosphere even from his position playing on the pitch. “It usually tends to be a good atmosphere against Pats, both away and at home. That’s what I’ve seen at my time at Rovers. It was one of the better atmospheres and they brought a big crowd. There is that rivalry between the two teams and the teams are doing quite well in the league. It is always good to play in games like that. They are the type of games you want to be playing in with a big crowd and a good atmosphere.”

The Hoops had been knocked off top spot in the previous game when they lost 2-0 away to Sligo Rovers. This was the fifth game between the two Rovers sides this season and the first game that the Hoops had not won. Maybe this was a reason that the 2-0 defeat to Sligo seemed to cause such interest around the league but it was also due to the fact that following the game Shamrock Rovers assistant manager Trevor Croly decided it was time to leave Rovers. Following the defeat the players and management discussed in detail the Sligo performance with a view to rectifying it at the next available opportunity which they did against St. Pats. “We were disappointed with the performance and the result against Sligo. I thought Sligo did very well and they are a good team. We didn’t do what we could have done. When that happens you end up getting beaten.” Talking about the post-match discussion Mannus explained that “after the game people say what they feel on how we can improve and not let that happen again. That is part of football.”

Shamrock Rovers played fifty competitive games in all competitions last season. With the exception of the ninety minutes played in a Leinster Senior Cup tie, Alan Mannus played every single minute of the other 49 games in the season where he was instrumental in Shamrock Rovers winning the League of Ireland title for the first time since 1994. That title win brings certain pressure to players, teams and clubs as there is greater scrutiny of successful clubs along with opposition teams looking to take the scalp of the league champions. However, Mannus feels that the squad are certainly up for that challenge. “I think the thing is that after last year when we won the league and did well in Europe, we are really considered the team to beat now. There is no other real team in the league that is expected to win, other than us. Obviously other teams are trying to win and want to win but really we are the only team expected to win. That is all part of being a big team.”

“If you have a bad performance and a bad result, people make a big deal out of it,” continued Mannus. “People tend to really enjoy the fact that you get beaten and you didn’t play well. In my opinion, that is all about being at a big team. Really it should be considered that this is a good thing. We are really the only team that this is being said. We are the only team that is going to get that reaction. There are two ways of looking at it. You can either let it get to you and let yourself become negative or scared. Or you can say to yourself, I’m here at this team because I’m good enough to be here and, not only that, I can deal with these things and use them as motivation to do better next week.”

“Whenever you get comments from other people when you get beaten or if you’ve not done so well and maybe things are said in the papers, you can use that as motivation,” Mannus went on to say. “Don’t use it as a negative. As a team and as individual players we need to look it as the reason I am here is that I can deal with it whereas maybe other people can’t do that. I see it as a challenge to be able to respond to a bad performance so that you can do a good job next time. We have to be at our best every week as every other team is going to raise their game against us more than they would against other teams. And if people can’t deal with it, then it isn’t the right club for them to be at.”

It certainly seems that the Rovers goalkeeper thrives on this pressure and his form, along with that of the back four in front of him, has kept Rovers on top of the league for virtually all of the season so far. It is a high standard that Mannus expects at Rovers especially of himself. This could be seen with his reaction to conceding a goal against UCD last month despite the Hoops being 5-0 up at the time. “I was disappointed as I felt I should have done better with it and I wanted the clean sheet as well. That is what I aim to do as a goalkeeper so I was very disappointed with myself as I felt I could have done better. It is the sort of thing I knew that I would have saved 99 times out of 100. It is the kind of thing we work on in training and so I was disappointed in that way when I didn’t do my job for that one second. You come so close to keeping a clean sheet and because of me we didn’t get it.”

Rovers’ defensive form meant they went half way through the league campaign without conceding two league goals in a game and that fine form is something that Mannus is proud of. “We’ve been very good. It was only in the recent games against Dundalk [in a 2-2 draw] and in Sligo that we’ve conceded more than one goal in a league game. It was disappointing and so was the Sligo game but that can happen every now and again. Up until then we really hadn’t given up many chances or goals, we’ve worked very hard as a back five and as a team to do that. I have the best back four in front of me in every position that you can have in the league. If someone doesn’t play for whatever reason someone else can come in and do a job. It must be hard for the manager to pick the team but that is the sign of a good team.”

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