For a man who has proudly worn the blue and white for almost his entire stay in Loyola Heights, the script has not provided the happiest of endings for Ateneo de Manila University’s Mikko Mabanag. His five-year collegiate football career came to an end in the 4-1 loss to the University of the Philippines in the UAAP men’s football final last week. Despite falling short at the last step, the diminutive yet influential skipper expressed how incredibly proud he is of what the team has achieved and is excited about what they could achieve in seasons to come.
“Sa start pa lang ng season sinabi ko na we’re a bunch of kids and the mere fact that we were able to pull through until the very end, that shows a lot of character from the team, not just from me but from the entire team. It’s a collective effort,” Mabanag stated, adding that fate simply favored their opponents in the end. “Grabe talaga yung pinakita ng players. They really wanted it but destiny shows that it’s UP’s year,” he added.
There may not be gold on their necks, but even being in contention for the trophy was not something the Blue Eagles had expected midway through the season. Mabanag admitted that he had been worried about their woeful performance. Thankfully, it wasn’t too late, as it led to a team talk that he believes changed it all for the better. “What I was saying to them was if you never lose sight of your way, you will never lose sight of your why and when they were telling me why they wanted to play pa, that [put] confidence in them. Yun yung nangyari, the team matured,” he assessed.
The maturity of the young Ateneo team was well-reflected in the second round, as only UP had racked up more points that they did. For a team that wasn’t seen as a major contender, it came as a resounding statement. During that stretch, the relatively-inexperienced Ateneo team fought hard to scrape important victories against the Far Easter University and De La Salle University; without those, they would had been nowhere near where they finished.
“Iyon ‘yung turning point na pinakita ng team na kaya, na porket bata kami kaya pa rin,” Mabanag, who served suspension in both of those games, identified. It’s only a pity that they were unable to power their way past a similarly peaking Fighting Maroons team that outdid them in the season’s last 90 minutes of play. “Wala, ganun talaga eh, win or lose dapat heads up and talagang may matatalo. Unfortunately kami yung natalo,” Mabanag uttered.
Overall, Mabanag is optimistic for what the Blue Eagles can achieve in Season 79. Having proven they are a strong squad this season, the Blue Eagles may turn out to be favorites to win the title alongside the UP Fighting Maroons. While it is still too early to call, the outgoing Ateneo captain wishes his team to remember some of the things their school has been teaching them so they could keep it up.
“Everything that we go through is a challenge and that challenge does not mean na dapat susuko kami. When you fail that means you didn’t do enough but when you are victorious it means that you can do more to be victorious, to succeed more. That’s what I always tell my teammates. Kasi in the Ateneo way, it’s always doing more. A sound mind in a sound body (mens sana in corpore sano) and we do more (magis). You have to do more, win or lose,” he highlighted. A testament to the magis spirit is Mabanag himself, who cited his small stature and his willingness to pour all that he could for Ateneo. In saying that, he hopes that his teammates will be inspired like him to push themselves to the limit.
On a personal note, Mabanag feels nothing but pride for representing Ateneo for the most part of his life. He also offered thanks the Ateneo community, the coaching staff, and the fans for supporting the team along the way. “It’s not the best ending but no matter what happens to the team nandiyan sila eh. That’s the reason why we’re here right now,” he attributed.
Having scored in his last game in the league,the one-time UAAP best midfielder took the opportunity to thank God for granting his modest request of driving them away from harm. “We offer everything to Him. I always pray for na maging healthy kami, but I never prayed for a win, I never prayed for a goal. What I always pray is bahala ka na Lord, alagaan Mo lang kami sa field and yun yung nangyari, naalagaan Niya kami,” he shared.
Moving forward, Mabanag is eyeing progress in his football career. He has signed a contract with UFL club JP Voltes which he would juggle with a master’s degree in psychology, opening up an option in case football doesn’t work out for him. Yet, it would take a lot for Mabanag to give up what he likes doing. “My passion talaga is for football and I think I have to wait and see how God makes my plans pan out especially in football. Tignan natin kung kaya ko pang ituloy-tuloy,” he declared.
He may not be with the Blue Eagles in a uniform, but there is no denying that Mabanag is a blue through and through. As he pursues to make a name in the professional league, Mabanag surely carries the same hope that he has with his teammates doing better come next season.
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