Women's Team

Mannion: Sometimes you have to be thrown in the deep end!

Mannion: Sometimes you have to be thrown in the deep end!
It is said that good things can happen when you least expect them; that the best experiences can arise from unexpected opportunities.

The way in which you handle those moments defines their success and those with positive mindsets do not fear obstacles – they view them as chances to improve.

City and England defender Aoife Mannion certainly possesses that mindset. The 25-year-old has overcome one of the toughest challenges an athlete can be faced with - suffering an ACL injury that sidelined her for 15 months - but approached the situation with remarkable acceptance, resilience, positivity and even gratitude for the support she was thankful to receive.

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Although incredibly humble, Mannion has earned deserved acclaim from her peers throughout her recovery with Georgia Stanway, Alex Greenwood and Janine Beckie all praising their teammate in recent months for her ‘inspirational’ attitude – an outlook they say has spurred their motivation to reach their own goals.

There are not many people who could cope with an ACL injury the way Mannion has but her attitude, which made her recovery manageable, is now paying off.

She’s back in contention, providing a contribution on the pitch as well as off it, having served as her team's best 'cheerleader' throughout the past year, picking players up when needed and praising jobs well done.

On Sunday, the defender was given the chance to shine in somewhat challenging circumstances – and she took the opportunity with both hands... or feet.

The defender had actually headed out to sit on the substitutes bench in the moments before kick-off, as City prepared to face Tottenham Hotspur in a crucial FA Women’s Super League clash, when she was informed she would actually be starting the game with Champions League winner Alex Greenwood having pulled up in the warm-up.

With mere minutes to ready herself, Mannion raced back into the changing room to prepare for what would be her first start since October 2019.

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While the prospect of such a milestone moment in her recovery may well have set nerves jangling, Mannion did not have time to process the magnitude of the situation until after the game – a detail she feels actually aided her performance, as she produced a composed display to help City to a vital 3-0 win.

“I felt really happy,” she reflected. “It was a very strange, bizarre day but I was very thankful I was able to help the team get the win and do it convincingly.

“It was only after the game that the emotions of the occasion started to set in, when I was able to tune out.

“It had been so long and it felt so weird to hear it was 2019 when I’d last started a game!

“It was also only the second time I’d played as a central defender with City but to be honest, I felt at home there – that’s where I prefer to play.

“It was just so nice to be involved. It bookended the rehab a little bit – I’d never done a long rehab before so I didn’t know what it would be like but most people who are rehabbing for a long injury dream of the day they’re fully fit for a match.

“To be able to do that, I was so chuffed and my family and friends were so pleased. I was very thankful to the medical staff at the Club for helping me to do that.

“Sometimes you need to be thrown in the deep end to see what you’re really about.

“I literally had enough time to go in, put my match shirt on and walk out with the team!

“The one overwhelming thought I had was that I wanted some sugar gels to make sure I’d taken enough fuel on board!

“Focusing on that probably took away any nerves or doubts, and we were able to get into a rhythm quite quickly and had a lot of joy. I was probably more nervous in the 90th minute!

“I feel like I’d been growing in confidence every time I’d come onto the pitch and had more training exposure – and it helped that the players were so supportive.

“Everyone has a role – regardless of whether they’re playing – and people acknowledged it was a big deal for me.

“Matches are different to training but Sunday was the perfect opportunity to see if I could get into the rhythm on the pitch with the team and thankfully, I felt confident I was able to do that.”

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In the middle of her rehab when Gareth Taylor was appointed as manager in the summer of 2020, Mannion has had fewer minutes on the training pitch to learn a new style of play with the Head Coach encouraging attack-minded, possession-based football with a composure to build from the back.

While it took time for the squad to adjust, the benefits of the new systems have propelled City into the FA WSL title race with just three games of the season left, with Taylor’s side boasting an impressive record of clean sheets since our upturn in fortunes.

Should the FA Cup holders win all three league games (including a crunch, top-of-the-table clash with current leaders Chelsea), we would lift the trophy for just the second time.

Regardless of what happens in the title hunt, Mannion says defensive solidary has been a real highlight of the campaign for her.

“That’s a good feeling at the moment and I think it speaks to the quality of some of the players we have on the pitch,” she declared.

“To think Steph [Houghton], Lucy [Bronze], Alex [Greenwood] and Demi [Stokes] weren’t available for the Spurs game – some of the most capped players – for us to be able to play and win convincingly is encouraging for the depth of the squad; not just for the defenders but players in different positions.

“To be able to get clean sheets, defenders and goalkeepers have to do their job but defending starts from the front – as a team, we defend well, and squash a lot of the chances opposition have.

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“Once a team gets momentum of clean sheets, it becomes an expectation and it’s something we take pride in: giving the opposition as few chances as possible.

“Playing out from the back is what most teams would like to do really well. It’s certainly part of how we want to play. We practice all the time.

“There are lots of ways to progress the ball up to attack. It takes time to see patterns and pictures the manager wants us to see and to get everyone on the same page at the same time – but when it clicks, it looks effortless.

“It’s testament to the mindset of the players. It’s up to all of us to show what we can do – in training and in matches – and every player gets opportunities to do that.

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“When we are called upon, there’s an expectation and understanding of what that’s meant to look like and I was thankful for the training. I felt confident in what I was doing.

“For things to look good and flow nicely, it’s because of the work put in behind-the-scenes – mistakes are made in training so they’re out of the system. We practice things we want to do in the game a lot.

“For me personally, I guess the main improvement has been from getting more exposure to different scenarios in training. Coming back from a long rehab, you can feel rusty and it takes time to get the cobwebs off.

“There was a bit of patience and frustration around that but everyone has to deal with that – whether you’re just coming back or playing for five years – when a new manager is asking for specific things.

“For us to get into the rhythm of creating chances, progressing the ball through the pitch, is encouraging and there’s definitely a feeling we’ll continue to build.

“Now, we’re coming into the end of the league season with a really good chance of securing the title if we control what we can with our performances and that’s testament to the mentality the players have.”

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