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No regrets from ex-St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus, who hopes to play beyond 40

Alan Mannus in his St Johnstone days.
Alan Mannus in his St Johnstone days.

Alan Mannus hasn’t changed his mind. The time was right to leave Perth when he did.

But don’t mistake a decision to swap the Scottish Premiership for the League of Ireland as an admission that his goalkeeping powers were on the wane. Then or indeed now.

Before the coronavirus shutdown, Mannus was at the top of his game, helping Shamrock Rovers to the top of their table with five wins out of five.

A milestone birthday may be just over two years away but the Scottish Cup winner with St Johnstone intends to be stopping shots and collecting crosses beyond it.

“I know that people look at a player’s age and they have it in their head that beyond a certain age you’re starting to go downhill,” said Mannus. “But I feel better than I’ve ever felt – physically and mentally. It certainly doesn’t feel like I’m on a downward slope or anything like that.

“If I had stayed over there I still feel as if I could have done something.

“It wouldn’t have been my decision if I was being selected to play the games though, of course. Obviously in my last couple of years myself and Zander (Clark) were playing half of the games each, that kind of thing.”

And the old dog is learning new tricks in Dublin.

“It’s a different type of league here and our team are playing a different style,” Mannus explained.

“Our manager wants us to play out from the back a lot. That’s been different for me and it has made it really interesting.

“I’d played for about 20 years and it was nearly always a case of big goal-kicks and going long. When I get a back pass now it’s not a case of me thinking about hitting it as hard as I can.

“I’ve worked a lot on it in training and I feel I’ve been getting better at it.”

Conversations with one of his Perth goalkeeping coaches are fresh in Mannus’s mind when he considers how long he’ll play on.

“Steve Banks was about 41 and I would have been around 34 and I spoke to him a lot about how he managed to keep going until that age,” he explained.

“He said he was fortunate he didn’t have any serious injuries and he adapted himself. Thankfully, I’ve never had any surgeries or major injuries and I’ve always been into strength and conditioning and nutrition.

“I’d imagine it would be hard to find someone who has a better injury record in terms of training sessions and games missed over the last 20 years.

“I’ll be 38 soon but I’m not the oldest over here like I was in Scotland for pretty much the whole time I was there!”

A combination of family and football prompted Mannus’s decision to return home in 2018, a few games short of 200 appearances for Saints. He has been proved correct on both fronts.

“My wife and I loved it over there (in Scotland),” he said. “It wasn’t just me – she’d made a lot of friends as well, who she still keeps in touch with.

“We missed our families but the main thing was the grandparents being able to see their grandchildren. We’re settled closer to my family and we see them once a week (before all this happened). My wife’s families are down in Dublin and we see them a lot more than we did when we were in Scotland too.”

He added: “If I’d stayed on I would have been considered as a back-up to Zander because he’d done so well and the manager liked him a lot. I couldn’t complain about that.

“Being a number two would have felt different to two number ones.

“As goalkeepers you have a rivalry but that was one of the few times in my career I was always delighted if the other goalie played well. I’d seen him progress and we were very good friends.”

Mannus played nine times for his country before retiring after the Euro 2016 finals, and believes Clark should be capped as well.

He said: “When I was there we spoke about the Scotland situation and I’d say ‘surely they’ve got to be looking at you now’. I always thought he would be called up pretty soon. It did surprise me that he wasn’t.

“It was maybe the St Johnstone thing that came into it. Players and managers from other teams get highlighted more. Everybody who is at St Johnstone – supporters and players – know what that means. People on the outside don’t get it.

“He’s getting a lot of games at the top level and he has all the attributes to be an international keeper.”

Alan Mannus remembers Ali McCann emerging at St Johnstone – but he didn’t know he was Northern Irish!