Aoife Mannion: ‘I’m hoping some of our learning can come to fruition against Sweden’

After a triumphant end to the club season, the Manchester United player sees reasons for optimism as the Republic of Ireland prepare for two crucial Euro 2025 qualifiers

Aoife Mannion struggles to recall the last trophy she won before Manchester United’s victory over Spurs in the FA Cup final earlier this month. “The girls were all taking the mick out of me,” she says, “it was my first in about 10 years. The last one was an FA Cup shield or something with Aston Villa, I can’t even remember what it was called, but some sort of regional trophy”.

Wembley, then, provided a significant upgrade on the silverware front, United winning the FA Cup for the first time in their history in front of a crowd of 76,000. By the time Mannion rose from the bench to come on for the last 12 minutes, they were already 4-0 up. Job done.

“It was class, an absolutely incredible experience – and then the boys did it too, so there was a proper good feeling from that. It was just really, really special, for my family and my friends too. About 25 came over from Ireland and there was a school from Ballinrobe there. We know one of the teachers and she brings the kids to games – they have been to the Aviva, they were in the Emirates when we played Arsenal. They always bring the same banner, so I clocked it in Wembley, that was how I knew where my family were – it’s not like it was 10 years ago when you could see faces in the crowd.”

It was a joyous ending to yet another injury-ravaged season for the 28-year-old defender who managed just four league appearances for United. After a knee injury ruled her out of the World Cup she then tore a quad in September, putting her back in the treatment room until her return in February. And having suffered two anterior cruciate ligaments injuries during her career, she was no stranger to lengthy periods on the sidelines.

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Did dreaming of days like the FA Cup final keep her going? “Yeah, it’s a mad one to try to reconcile, some low points and then incredible highs. After my career, I will look back and see where it all sits and what was worth it and what wasn’t. But the FA Cup is just a memory now and I need to chase that feeling again.”

She has put her spells out of the game to good use, completing her Uefa B coaching licence and now she’s one of 17 current or former players to be included in the first ever all-female Uefa A licence course. The 12-month programme began last week and includes luminaries such as Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead, Kim Little, Lia Wälti and Steph Houghton – as well as someone Mannion will hope Ireland can trouble in the two games ahead, Chelsea’s Swedish goalkeeper Zećira Mušović. “We had a few nice words when we were leaving, like ‘see you in a few days’ or whatever,” she says with a laugh.

While coaching might be the next step in her career, for now her sole focus is on playing. Since she was given her debut by Vera Pauw in February of last year, that run of bad luck has seen her add just four more caps to her tally, but a measure of how highly Eileen Gleeson rates her is that she started against both France and England in the opening games of Ireland’s Euro 2025 qualifying campaign last month. Not in her more usual centre back role, but at left and right wing-back.

“I always say I don’t mind where I play, I will try anywhere, the only thing that is important for me is that I give it a right good go, whatever the position. That versatility can be useful for the team, and I will put in a shift anywhere and help in any capacity.”

While Ireland failed to take a point from either the French (0-1) or English (0-2) games, Mannion believes there were enough positives to take from that window to give the side confidence going into Friday’s game against Sweden at the Aviva Stadium and the return in Stockholm next Tuesday.

“We felt like we did well for large portions of those games. The scorelines were narrow and against England, particularly in that second half, we felt we were the ones with the impetus and really pushing after quite a conservative first-half.”

“The next step for us is to see where that balance sits over a whole 90 minutes. It is difficult to play against the top, top teams, so you are trying to work out the best way of getting a result while not getting opened up. I’m hoping that some of that learning can come to fruition against Sweden – but that’s not to underestimate how good they are. They are one of the best teams in the world.”