As game 2 against the Antrim Jets fast approaches, we spoke in-depth with long serving Cowboy Manny Bell on his playing career so far and hopes for this season.
This is your 11th year as a Cowboy, what is it that keeps you coming back for another season?
“What keeps me coming back after 10+ years is, the sport itself, the craic, the competitive experience and sure what else would you do on a Sunday? Sit and watch mind bending telly? I love knowing that Sunday is my day to get together with a great bunch of lads, have a bit of banter and then smash each other in the mouth, dust yourself off and go again.”
You have moved all across the offensive line positions in your time playing as well as jumping across to the other side of the ball when needed, what has been your favourite position and what is it about O-Line you love?
“I have played across the line and to be honest I’ve enjoyed each position at different times in my career as a Cowboy, I really enjoyed playing centre while playing with Big John Scott and Mark Beattie as guards, I also enjoyed playing guard with the late Terry Lynch and Paul Braniff at centre. But I’m really enjoying playing left tackle at the minute, it’s more of a thinking position rather than brute force like guard and centre.”
You have played against just about every team currently involved in IAFL, who is your favourite opponent and why?
“Had to think hard about this one, but I have come up with 2 teams - firstly the team I used to really enjoy playing was Carrickfergus Knights (Belfast Knights now) because they were a team that we always ran close to beating but just seemed to be unable to cross the line against, I enjoyed these games most due to the rivalry and I know a few of the guys on the team which was the cause of much debate and abuse over the years. But now I think I like to play against the Derry/Donegal Vipers, this is due to the fact that they have some players that used to play with us as Cowboys which is the cause of a little friction plus they have a decent squad and they play hard football which I really enjoy, especially when you win, there’s an added incentive to push yourself.”
Who has been your favourite Cowboys either past or present that you played with?
“This is probably the toughest question of all! I’ve played with some great guys over the years whom have both helped and supported me playing this sport. But the one guy that will forever stick out to me is Bobby 'The Moose' Murray, he played hard ass football, he hit like a truck and could take some punishment as a RB/FB, he typifies what it is to play this sport. Broken hand? "No problem". Broken foot? "Wrap it up and hurry I've a game to finish". No matter how hard he hit or got hit, what mistake you made, he always smiled helped you to your feet and got ready to put you on your ass again.”
The past few years you have taken up a coaching role with the Cowboys Youth Team, taking up the role of Head Coach. Was it hard to make that transition to the coaching side and what is it you love about it?
“Yeah, I'm making small steps into coaching as it’s almost time to step off the main playing stage, and now that the team is growing from strength to strength, there’s a bigger need for coaching staff to manage the squad. It’s tough to be a coach especially following in the footsteps of the likes of Greg, Terry and Bobby who have all given so much to me in the way of coaching over the years. I truly love this sport and really want it to become a more main stream sport that is played regularly, so to teach youths the basics and trying to progress them to the point that they are confident in playing a competitive game is hugely important to me. I enjoy the challenge and working with the lads because they do try and in this sport there’s no room for bluffers so you’ll be quickly found out if you don’t put the effort in. What gives me the most satisfaction is to see our youth players coming through into the senior squad and making an immediate impact, for example Anton Nulty, Scott Buchanan and David McMichael, who have all either played or are playing in the Ireland under 20’s squad.”
Another season in IAFL1 for you which started off well with a win against Crusaders, what are your hopes for this season both personally and for the team?
“Another season in IAFL 1 isn’t the worst thing to happen to the team, I think personally it’ll allow our rookies and youth players to mature and get ready for the challenge of Shamrock Bowl Football, which I hope to get a shot in before I retire. I really want the team to go one step further and win the IAFL 1 Bowl and to be honest I don’t see why we won’t this year! There is a lot of talent on this team and with most guys having to prove their worth to get a starting spot, it’ll push us to another level in competitiveness both in training and on game day. For me, I just want to play as much football as I can with this team! As long as I can keep up with the pace and prove myself as a valuable member of the Offense, I’ll be content!”
You were awarded with a Volunteer Award from ABC Council for your services to the Cowboys, how great is it to be recognised for all your hard work and what would you say to someone who was thinking of getting involved?
“Winning the award from the ABC council was a really nice achievement and I was really honoured to be put forward by the team as there are so many worthy guys in the team that deserve credit and recognition for their efforts. It was a great night and I am delighted that the Council recognised the sport as a worthwhile cause to give an award to. This in turn helps to raise the profile of our sport in the Borough on a larger scale. My advice to anyone who is thinking of getting involved is go for it! You’re always welcome to help out in any capacity from taking pictures to holding the down markers on game day. This is a family, we are all in this journey together and many hands make light work and anything you do to contribute to the cause is greatly appreciated. You’ll never know if you don’t try, “if you don’t take the step, you never move forward.”
You would be one of the most senior members of the squad, we have had quite a few rookies come into the set up this past two years, how have they looked while integrating into the squad and what would you say to someone else thinking of giving it a go?
“I am delighted with the amount of rookies joining us over the past 2 seasons, thanks to the hard work in the background by committee and board members. These guys have worked their socks off to get things together and it’s great to see the results paying off with the level of talent we are picking up. Most of the rookies from last season are playing as a solid part of the team and have settled well into the family, the new guys from this season are getting on well and are picking things up and putting it into practice on the field. My advice to the rookies in the team is there is no such thing as a stupid question except the one you didn’t ask. Embrace the banter (of which there’s plenty) and turn up, train hard, put in the effort and the results will follow. Only you will know if you put in the max effort, and if you do you’ll never come off the field disappointed in yourself. And lastly if your given a nickname it will stick so don’t do anything to stupid at the start as you could be called out for it and a nickname developed and you’ll be forever know as that as you time with the Cowboys family. Get Fully Involved!”
Lastly, what is it you love best about being a Cowboy?
“What I love most about being a Cowboy is the never give in attitude, grit and determination that is bred into the team. Hit hard, ask question after. The team spirt and sense of belonging and acceptance whether you’re fat, thin, tall, small, black, white, brown, green whatever! If you put in the effort for us, you’ll reap the rewards and sense of family in return. I also love bus trips to away games these are not to be missed, especially on rookies first long bus trip, the craic on the bus after the game is fantastic and is even better with a win and we are going for a drink after (messy times). So I’ll sign off with #Cowboysfamily #Bleedorange”
Photos by Ariane Boudias and Eamon McCormick
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