Tyrone’s Joe McMahon brought the curtain down on his inter-county career yesterday, admitting defeat in his battle to overcome injury.
The 33-year-old Omagh man won two All-Ireland titles during an outstanding career with the Red Hands.
One of the game’s most versatile players, he featured in attack, defence and midfield over various stages of a career that began in 2004, and famously teamed up with younger brother Justin to snuff out the ‘Twin Towers’ threat of Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh in the 2008 All-Ireland final, holding the pair to a single point.
But in recent seasons, injury has dogged the genial schoolteacher, and he had not played for Tyrone since the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry, when he suffered a groin injury, and he has since been troubled by hamstring problems.
Fresh hope McMahon may be on the way back came in the form of his return to play for his club at the weekend. He came on as a sub for his first appearance of the season, and looked sharp in Omagh’s big win over Urney at Healy Park.
But just hours later came the news he had made the heartbreaking decision to give up on making a comeback for Tyrone after almost two seasons out of inter-county action.
“I have pushed myself to the limits working closely with the Tyrone medical team but I have to accept the reality it is my body which is saying it’s game over,” he said in a statement.
“Hopefully though, I will still be able to play with my club, Omagh St Enda’s.”
Tyrone skipper Sean Cavanagh, the only other remaining link to the 2005 All-Ireland winning side, was among the first to pay tribute to his departing team-mate.
“All the best in retirement to ‘Big Joe’. A great friend and teammate the last 16 years. The best all round player I have come across,” Cavanagh tweeted.
What looked like a minor strain at Croke Park in August 2015 turned out to be the injury that was to effectively end McMahon’s career. Complications and setbacks kept him out of league and championship throughout the following season, although he did return to action with his club in the latter part of the year.
But in the final league game of the 2016 season, he sustained a hamstring injury while playing for Omagh against Killyclogher, and had been out of action ever since, until his cameo appearance last Sunday.
McMahon added: “The combination of injuries over the last two years and the struggle to respond to treatment to gain the fitness required at this level has compelled me to call time on my inter-county career.
“I was very fortunate to have played with and against some of the greatest players to have graced the game and under one the GAA’s greatest managers, Mickey Harte.
“I am so indebted to those who helped me along the way — my wife Geraldine and I must mention my children Aoibhe, Anna and Joseph, my parents, family, friends and my club Omagh St Enda’s, my former schools Omagh CBS and St Conor’s PS and St Mary’s College Belfast.
“I acknowledge the support of the Tyrone backroom teams and the friendship of Mickey Moynagh over the years. The GPA has also been a great help in time of need.
“I can reflect now on the elements that make Tyrone such a passionate county for its football — the county board, Club Tyrone and the loyal supporters with their families.
“I thank all of them for the generosity of their time and resources and for the brilliant memories shared.
“I wish all my colleagues in the 2017 squad every success for the championship ahead. I say to them, enjoy all your days with Tyrone. There is no greater honour than pulling on the jersey.”
McMahon made 122 appearances for Tyrone during a career that, like so many, started in the Dr McKenna Cup, when he made his debut in the 2004 final against Donegal.
In the same season, he made his championship debut against Fermanagh, and went on to make 61 championship appearances, winning All- Ireland titles in 2005 and 2008.
Despite taking up a predominantly defensive role, he scored 2-15 during a career that marked him out as a man with a steely desire and an inspirational disposition.
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