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From Belmullet to Abu Dhabi

Sport

ON THE BALL Eamon Mangan is pictured with Al Jazira player Ahmed Attas.

Physio Eamon Mangan has a fascinating story to tell about his new life in Abu Dhabi

Interview
Michael Gallagher

HE grew up in Belmullet dreaming of sporting glory on the football pitch and in the boxing ring.
Today, he’s busily preparing for the opening round of the United Arab Emirates Pro Soccer League.
Eamon Mangan was no stranger to the four-cornered ring in The National Stadium and a handy footballer with Belmullet and St Brendan’s College, but he never imagined he’d be on the sideline in Abu Dhabi when Al Jazira FC played the beautiful game.
Today, in the first of an exclusive two-part interview we hear about the journey from Erris to the Emirates and some of the characters he met along the way.
How did a teenager with no life-plan end up head physio with one of the biggest soccer clubs in the Middle East?

Early days
“I GREW up in Belmullet and like many others was big into sport. I boxed with Geesala, played ball with Belmullet and enjoyed every second of it. I loved the camaraderie and the craic and being part of a good group of people.
I suppose it’s the same today. I’m here in Abu Dhabi, working with a great group of lads and enjoying it.
“I loved the boxing. We had a great group in Geesala at that stage and the craic was great. I boxed in a few Irish finals but never got over the line for one reason or another. Of course, it’s a very individual sport but it’s also one where you rely on the people around you and as we got older and some of the rest of the lads fell away from the sport I didn’t enjoy it as much.
“At that stage I was playing football with Belmullet and Erris United and getting through school in St Brendan’s, not really thinking too much about the future.

College
“The whole physiotherapy thing wasn’t my enduring dream growing up. I did the Leaving Cert and went off to college in Sligo IT. Everyone talks about the plans they have for life — well, my plan was no-plan.
On a whim, I picked ‘Health, Science and Physiology’ and settled into college life. I was there with a couple of Belmullet boys, having a good time and enjoying being away from home for the first time. Then, I met my wife Susan and after a while we were talking about what we’d do after we got our degrees.
She was adamant she wanted to do physiotherapy and was heading off to Manchester. She had it all planned out and I said, ‘sure, if you’re doing that I’m as well to go with ya.’
Manchester worked out really well for us. I had a really good mentor in university – Duncan Mason. He’s a top physio for Great Britain Athletics and I learned so much off him in terms of human movement and biomechanics and just got really interested in it by accident more than anything else.”

On the move
“I got my degree and worked in Manchester for a couple of years in a sports practise and then we moved to Melbourne.
Once again, I got lucky and worked in a really top sports facility there. Australia is a very sports-orientated country and Melbourne is undoubtedly the capital of the sporting side of things. The Australian Open tennis is there and Australian Football is huge. There are probably 18 teams in the league, and I’d say ten of them are based around Melbourne.
AFL is the top sport in Australia and it’s very similar to football at home so it’s very easy to understand the game and get to like it. A lot of the pro guys would come in to us for pre-season or rehab and it was a really enjoyable environment to work in.
After a few years it came to a time when we had to make a decision – stay in Australia or move nearer home. My sister was in Abu Dhabi and we decided to try our luck there. Once again, I fell on my feet and got working in a really good sports clinic there, Yas Physiotherapy Centre where we dealt with all types of pro athletes.”

The Eubanks
“ONE morning I went into work and my manager told me there was a boxer coming in for treatment and assessment and a few minutes later Chris Eubank Jnr came through the door. My mind immediately went back to the Geesala boys and the craic they’d have if they knew I was working with one of the Eubanks.  
I was excited about having young Eubank in the room and the next minute the door opened and Chris Snr walked in. I didn’t know where to look, to be honest.
Chris Jnr had an elbow injury and the two of them spent a few weeks with me. I was treating Chris Jnr and doing physio on Chris Snr and we had some craic. They’re great lads and I think we got on well.
Chris Snr is some character. We see him on the telly and we saw him boxing over the years and you think he’s mad, but he’s even better in real life. It was an interesting few weeks – the two Eubanks and a Belmullet fella, it doesn’t get much madder than that.
I was in contact with the British Boxing Board of Control because Chris Jnr had a fight coming up and I had to keep them informed about his injury.
I’d be on the laptop and Chris Snr would be there standing over my shoulder wondering what I was writing. He’s very intense, but we eventually got to understand one another and it worked out well.”
A NEW CHALLENGE
“We’d have all varied sportspeople coming to us – jujitsu fighters, MMA fighters and lots of footballers, so I ended up working with a lot of the players in the UAE Pro-League out here.
A number of teams enquired to see if I’d go and work with them and when Al Jazira got in contact and asked if I’d be interested in leading their physio team I couldn’t refuse. They’re one of the biggest clubs in the Middle-East, owned by Sheikh Monsour, who owns Manchester City, so it was a wonderful opportunity for me and now I’m going into my second season with them.
The team is good. We won the league in 2021 and have some handy players like Thulani Sereno who played for Ajax and international players from Africa and South America. We have a lot of lads on the UAE national team who lost a World Cup play-off by a late goal to Australia who’ve since qualified for the tournament.
Our facilities are really top-class. Last season, our training ground was being upgraded so we trained at the Emirates Palace which was an experience but now we’re back at base. The facility is brilliant. We’ve got cryo chambers, swimming pool, hot and cold plunge pools, saunas, Jacuzzis, a really good gym and it’s a great environment for me to work in.
From the medical side we’ve got everything we need for rehabilitation and recovery processes. I can imagine how much the physios with Mayo GAA would enjoy having this facility in Castlebar.”
in part 2…
Eamonn talks about a day in the life of Al Jazira FC, the Qatar World Cup, yearning for home, Mayo GAA and the future.

 

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