Philly McMahon: Special bond will always hold Dubs of this decade together

It used to be like this. A call for coffee with the manager, or a discreet invitation from one of the selectors. In the worst-case scenario a league panel without your name on it might appear in the paper.

Philly McMahon: Special bond will always hold Dubs of this decade together

It used to be like this. A call for coffee with the manager, or a discreet invitation from one of the selectors. In the worst-case scenario a league panel without your name on it might appear in the paper.

But now it’s different. An inter-county player knows it’s all over not when the young corner-forward beats him to a ball but when he leaves the WhatsApp group.

“That’s the new way,” says Philly McMahon, when you point it out.

“Now, I’m sure there are lads who leave the group and want to know what’s going on still within the group, but it’s the new way to go, and when you get the message it’s a shock.

“You know in advance what they’re going to do, or you know that this season is probably going to be their last — you’ve been on a journey with this guy for 10 or 11 years, and now it’s over. They’re gone.

“I don’t think it’ll hit most of the squad until we go back training and then you look around and realise it — ‘they’re gone’. There’s no sign of them in the dressing-room.”

McMahon was referring specifically to a couple of teammates.

Of Eoghan O’Gara he says:

“The most special thing about Eoghan is the person that he is off the pitch ... I’ve mentioned in the past stuff like coming up to visit my own Dad when he was ill, and Eoghan’s a very special guy like that. He thinks outside the box.”

On Bernard Brogan: “When I first came onto the squad in 2008 Bernard was starting to show what he could do, and from there to marking him in training, and having battles with him in training — and I mean real battles, punching the head off each other — and then to becoming friends.

“His wife and my fiancée are good friends away from football. For me Bernard’s done it all. He’s won it all, had a career that you’d look at and think, ‘I’d love a slice of that’.“

It’s retirement, not banishment. McMahon points out that even in the whirl of the capital he and the recently-departed still meet each other.

“Absolutely, you’re walking down the street and you see them and there’s a buzz because it brings it all back, the journey everyone was on together.

“It’s something I notice if I bump into the likes of Denis Bastick or Paul Flynn, I get that buzz straight away, that particular energy, because you’ve had a different relationship with these people, one that’s different to any other relationship you’ve had in your life.

“And that’s what’s special about sport, and the GAA in particular. When you finish football a lot of the time you’re forgotten about, and that’s okay. Most of the time people don’t play football for that reason, to be remembered.

“But your teammates don’t forget you, and when you see one of them, whether you’re still playing and they’ve retired, or vice versa, that connection is there straight away.”

Given the word is hanging in the air, what’s McMahon’s view on the future?

This last season he wasn’t a regular starter for Dublin, and though he picked up a seventh All-Ireland medal this must be a time for him to reflect ahead of committing for 2020.

“We’ve a team holiday and myself and Sarah will extend that to go on our honeymoon. I suppose for me this year was hot and cold — I broke my hand and missed most of the league campaign.

“I came back for the championship, did well in the first couple of games and then had a bad week in training and all of a sudden I lose my position.

“Which was my fault, but those are the inches you have to cover as an inter-county footballer when there’s so much quality in a squad.

“The funny thing is that if you don’t have that bad week in training you could potentially play against Mayo or Kerry, potentially pick up an All-Star — which would be a nice bonus.

“But the point is, if those things happen nobody asks if you’re going to retire. They’re the little differences that can sway your career at a certain age.

“For me, it’s all about my off-season. How well can I look after myself, and what kind of chance can I give myself going into pre-season? Then I can see how the league campaign goes and make a decision on where you are regarding game time in the championship.”

True enough. We met before McMahon gave an outstanding talk to a community group in Terence MacSwiney College in Cork, but he wasn’t going to overnight on Leeside. He’d done a gym session before the talk and would head back to Dublin afterwards.

“It’s important to give yourself that chance. When you get to a certain age you just don’t have an off-season. If you’re a young lad you can afford to take some time off, but when you’re an experienced player, when you’re there for a long time, then you have to catch up a little bit.

“That’s what I’m trying to do now, doing things that I’ve never done before, to get places I’ve never been so I’ll be ready when I get back in for preseason.

“That can be quite tough because we’ll have the team holiday and then go straight into the league, so those couple of weeks trying to get fit can be hard enough.”

The prospect of an eighth medal is a real one, then. Where are the others?

“The medals? My mam keeps them, of course.”

Is there an All-Ireland medallist in any county whose mother doesn’t mind his medals?

“I don’t think so. She has them in frames in the house, it’s like a museum, but she’s making threats about making me take them away.

“If I do she’ll probably just want them back, though. But yeah, she has them framed underneath my All-Ireland final jerseys.

“When I retire, that’ll be the time to reflect on the stories associated with those, and on the journey. It’s been crazy, it’s just flown by.

“And it’s not just the medals, it’s been about developing a purpose in life along the way: Ballymun Kickhams, Paddy Christie, the GAA, all of those people and groups have made me who I am today. I never see myself defined as a footballer, and the last four or five years I’ve been planning for what I’ll do when I retire.

“One thing I want to do is to spend more quality time with my loved ones, my relationships, and also give back to the club — and another is breaking the cycle we grow into.”

And then Philly McMahon went off to light a fire in those sitting in that Cork school library. When he was finished no doubt his talk featured in quite a few WhatsApp conversations.

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