Mannion: Mixed gaelic football games toughened me up
Aoife Mannion should certainly be able to handle herself in defence for Villa Ladies this season - because of her background in gaelic football.
Mannion has just been promoted from the all-conquering centre of excellence team and is tipped to make her mark in the seniors this term.
The versatile ace - who can play all positions across the back four - is regarded by manager Joe Hunt as "strong and aggressive".
And Mannion believes this has a lot to do with her participation in the popular Irish game which is a mix of football and rugby.
She now plays for a girls side but up until the age of 14 she faced boys in a mixed league! And she even turned out for a mixed football team when she was younger, skippering Mark Fogarty's brilliant Celtic Reds XI.
She said: "I play a lot of gaelic football still for a team called Sean McDermott's Ladies. I have been with them for a good few years.
"So it's instilled in me - that aggression - because the game is a mix between football and rugby. It's definitely a lot more physical and aggressive than football so you have to be able to hand yourself.
"Another key factor in my positive approach is that I played football for a boys team for three or four years. It was Celtic Reds, under Mark Fogarty's management.
"You have to be made of stern stuff to play against lads and we were successful too. Before I moved to Blues centre of excellence we won the Warwickshire County League and I was captain."
Mannion isn't the only St Peter's School, Solihull pupil to shine at Villa.
Mannion was a classmate of promising youth winger Jack Grealish up until a few years ago - and even played gaelic football against him when he turned out for a rival side.
She continued: "I was in the same school as Jack. I sat next to him. I also played gaelic football against him. He played for a rival team.
"I remember him being a good footballer at school but I haven't seen much of him at Villa!"
It's hopefully onwards and upwards for both now with versatile ace Mannion certainly relishing the new campaign under boss Joe Hunt.
Hunt was Mannion's manager in the centre of excellence and she knows it's good times ahead for the seniors under his management.
She added: "I am really excited about the new season. It's a big step up from centre of excellence.It's a good challenge. I don't know what to expect but I am really looking forward to it.
"It's a real honour to be called up to the seniors because I know there are a lot of great players already in the set-up. I am really looking forward to playing with them. I can't wait.
"I haven't done much pre-season training with Villa Ladies so far. I have had one session because I was representing England U19s in Turkey in the European Championships. But it was good.
"The intensity is a lot harder than the centre of excellence but it's refreshing.
"It's fantastic to have Joe as the manager too. When I found out he'd got the job I was really pleased because I get on with him. He's a top manager.
"He's had real success at the centre of excellence. It's no surprise because he has a lot of good traits.
"I think his best trait is his knowledge of the game. He knows how it works and he reads it really well. He makes crucial changes on the pitch to the team's advantage.
"He plays a strategy too which suits the players that he has."
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