Alan Mannus – A man for all seasonsby Macdara Ferris
Having broken the all-time League of Ireland unbeaten record of 31 matches last Monday with the 3-0 win over Waterford, the Hoops are looking to extend it on Saturday in the top of the table clash against St. Patrick’s Athletic. The only ever present player in this record breaking Rovers run is Alan Mannus who has played every minute of those 31 games.
The goalkeeper claimed his 75th league clean sheet in that match against Waterford and this weekend he is set to play his 75th consecutive league game for Rovers. In all competitions he has played 91 of the last 92 Rovers matches (with Leon Pohls lining out in one EA Sports Cup game in 2019).
That is quite the record for the oldest player in the Premier Division – Mannus turns 39 later this month.
His shot stopping cannot be called into question and critical to his longevity at the hightest level of the game in Ireland is the strength and conditioning work Mannus does and how he has adapted to Rovers’ style of play in recent seasons.
“Alan is brilliant at managing his body and making sure he is ready for game night,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley when talking about Mannus with extratime.com this week. “As he has got older his understanding of his body has been brilliant. It is no co-incidence that he doesn’t miss games.
“If we didn’t play the way we play, I don’t think Alan would be here to be honest. I think he would be retired. What he has here is a challenge. When we spoke to him about signing (in 2018), I showed him how we wanted to play and what he’d have to bring to it and he was excited by it.
“He hadn’t been asked to do that before and Al is the type of player when you put a challenge in front of him, he wants to meet it head on and that is what he has done here. Teams press us but he plays through it. He is learning every week and has been fantastic.”
Beating the press
Mannus spoke about beating the press with this reporter recently for Rovers’ Hoops Scene match programme. “We have a style of play where we want to keep possession,” said the goalkeeper. “We work hard on distribution.
“In training as a goalkeeping team, we work not just hitting it to the player but to their chest or feet over an opponent rather than just close to them.
"Previous to being at Rovers, it was usually about hitting it as far as you could into an area where you strikers can challenge for the header. It is very different now where you are trying to pick people out and maintain possession.
“We should always have an option if I can’t get to the centre half. The players need to be in certain positions to create space and then I need to recognise that and be good enough to try and get it to that player.”
Mannus has played a huge hand in helping Rovers secure major trophies across his two spells at the club. Signed in 2009 from Linfield by manager Michael O’Neill, the Northern Ireland netminder helped the Hoops win two league titles leaving for St. Johnstone mid-way through the 2011 season.
Rovers struggled for success after he left and the joke is that Rovers really only replaced Alan Mannus when they re-signed Alan Mannus in 2018.
He was instrumental in the Hoops winning their first FAI Cup in 32 years when he was the hero in the 2019 FAI Cup Final and last year he conceded just seven goals (the fewest number ever in a League of Ireland campaign) as Rovers kept 13 clean sheets in the shortened 18 game season with the Hoops winning their first title since 2011.
“I have a gym set up at home that I’ve had for a while,” said Mannus in Hoops Scene. “There is a saying that the best ability is availability. If I look back over my time, one of the biggest things for me is that I’ve been available to play where as other goalkeepers have picked up knocks.
“I’ve had a few injuries along the way but I’ve missed less time over 20 years than most goalkeepers and that for me is due to that strength training and the gym work. I’ve put the time in over the years and that has helped me.”
Lee Grace has played in front of Mannus throughout the goalkeeper’s second spell in Tallaght and was full of praise for the netminder when he also spoke with extratime.com this week.
“Al’s distribution is so good. He can drop the ball so easily into those pockets of space. His distribution is very good and when you are going back to him you always feel safe. He knows when it is on to play and he’ll play it, and he knows when not to. He has worked really hard on that.
“With Al behind you, you are always safe. When the opposition get shots away, more often than not Al will get you out of a hole. Playing 75 (league) games in a row is unbelievable for a man his age but he is in such great shape and it is a credit to him.
"He works incredibly hard. In those 75 games, I’m sure there are a lot of clean sheets.”
Checking the records, the goalkeeper has kept 45 shutouts in those 74 league matches ahead of this Saturday's match in Richmond Park. In total across his two spells at Rovers, Mannus has 75 clean sheets in the league. One more shutout and he’ll join Jody Byrne in third place on the all-time clean sheet list at the club.
Only Alan O’Neill (87) and Barry Murphy (97) have kept more. Murphy played 215 league matches for Rovers conceding 196 goals, while Mannus has played 143 matches so far in the league conceding 83 goals.
There will be plenty of more clean sheets for Alan Mannus to come this season. Should his form and that of his teammates continue you suspect there will be more silverware coming the way of one of the most decorated goalkeepers on this island – a ‘keeper whose palmarés includes five Irish League titles, four Irish Cups, three League of Ireland titles and an FAI Cup.