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Dublin: 15 °C Saturday 21 July, 2018
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'It was probably a bit more special than any other All-Ireland because who knows?'

Dublin’s Philly McMahon on a difficult 2017, and his honest reflection on the cynicism towards the end of the All-Ireland final.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

BEFORE PROCEEDINGS KICK off and the questions are thrown at Philly McMahon, he apologises for running a few minutes late.

He was coming from the hospital, the traffic was mental, he says as tape recorders are slid across the table to surround the Ballymun native.

A little over two months ago, his father was diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. There have been bad days, some worse than others, but there have also been good ones.

“It’s been difficult this year because of my Dad,” McMahon says. “The gift the lads have given me is amazing.”

Phil was in Croke Park two Sundays ago to watch his son win his fifth All-Ireland title, and see the Dublin players get their hands on Sam Maguire for the third consecutive year.

When the game was over, the fierce corner back knew exactly who he wanted to see. And the feeling was mutual.

“Funny enough, after the game, he was trying to run down to the gate in the Hogan Stand,” McMahon smiles.

“I was going ‘stay up there’, because where they were sitting was just covered in Mayo fans all the way up the steps. So I said ‘stay up there’ and jumped in. I was running up the steps… they were pulling out of me and cursing me. And they weren’t to know, to be honest.

“It was special for me. It was probably a bit more special than any other All-Ireland because who knows?

“And that’s the thing with this team. We’re very grateful for what we have.”

“I think it was the league final last year, a man came in to us and he only had a couple of days to live.

“Little things like that make us not give a shit about what people say to us in the papers. Life is too short to be listening to people that talk bad about us.”

The two-time All-Star has been open about his personal life for quite some time now. Off the field matters have been well documented, and he’s just penned an autobiography.

Philly McMahon with Conn McCluskey and Sibha Bhoja Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In 2012, he lost his brother John after a long struggle with heroin addiction, and has been a strong advocate for numerous addiction and mental health initiatives over the past few years.

He’s happy to engage, but respects the fact that other sportspeople aren’t so open.

“It’s getting to the level where the media want to know more about the player’s lives but you have to remember we are amateur, we don’t have to tell you anything about our personal lives.

“We know we represent the jersey the community and the county and there is a media obligation to get the support for us out there and that has helped us massively but at the end of the day we don’t get a penny for playing the sport.

“The reason I spoke about John was because it was nearly a weight off my shoulders and I know that if I spoke about him it could potentially help someone who was potentially in my situation growing up and it could have an effect.

“We want to know what the background is of soccer players and Conor McGregor but I certainly don’t see it as a wrong thing if a footballer or a hurler or a camogie player said I don’t want to tell you about my personal life.

“We’re not getting paid to play the sport and we are not in the sport to tell you about our personal lives, we’re there to play the game.”

Turning to football talk, there has been no shortage of sour commentary surrounding Dublin since their All-Ireland win over Mayo, but McMahon isn’t bothered by any of it.

Of course, the cynical tactics as the clock ran down have been discussed to no end. The GPS incident, the kicking tee, the black card and dragging down players, it’s all been debated. And McMahon’s take is brutally honest.

“You’re never going to get rid of cynical play,” he continues.

“A player is going to do absolutely whatever they can – I would have taken off my jersey and thrown it at Dean Rock, to put him off. This is the game.”

It’s part of human nature. People will bend the rules and do whatever it takes to win. And McMahon is a win at all costs type of player.

Cathal Downey with Philly McMahon Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I’ve got to the stage in life where I’m playing for Dublin and ultimately the effect of that is going to help people in my charity, especially if I win it.

“So I am going to do what I can to win. Now, if it effects the team negatively and the result negatively, then it’s the wrong decision.

“But that’s what you’re planning to do. There’s always the opportunity to be negative. And that’s why the lads probably did it in the last 10 minutes, because they saw the opportunity in something negative they were doing.

“Where do you draw the line? The referee sending you off, you know you’ve crossed the line then, and then you look back and you say, ‘Jesus, was that the right decision’ and how did it affect my team?”

Then again, what about the example those cynical tactics, and that win at all costs attitude set for younger kids?

“Well I grew up watching Gaelic football that was much tougher than it is today, so what example did they set? Some of the tackles that you can watch back in games, I love them!

“You don’t have them anymore, so does it really have an impact? It’s all well and good saying there’s certain things you shouldn’t be doing and that’s fine, I agree with that, but the players that came before us, it was a much rougher sport. Does that make us a rougher team? Probably not.”

And in terms of punishments, McMahon is a firm believer in seeing justice being done on the day rather than going through the boardroom review route.
“Yeah, 100 per cent,” he nods.

“It’s very strange the way it all is when you’re getting penalised for something you done and you’re sitting there and you have to wear a suit and all this. It doesn’t need to go that far. You get your punishment, if you made the mistake you deal with it.

“You look at all the players around the country and the effort and the time they put into the sport and then they look forward to this All-Ireland final day and you could essentially be off the pitch in five minutes for a silly error.

“I think that’s the big one that really would frustrate me. They talk about player welfare, there’s no player welfare when that happens. I’ve worked all week and trained all week and my family are coming to watch me play and then all of a sudden I’m gone after a stupid little error that we all make.

Philly McMahon Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Saying that, there is cynical play that we don’t want in the game that’s probably never going to be eradicated, but that’s where we should be looking at the sin-bin. Because when you get a black card it slows the whole game down.

“You have to wait for the other player to come on the pitch and it’s wasting more time, so it’s more cynical play on top of it.”

Going back to the point on sour commentary, there has been quite a lot of criticism of Jim Gavin’s demeanor at the full-time whistle in Croke Park. He had just guided his side to three-in-a-row, but it was just like any other day at the office.

McMahon sees where the fascination is coming from, but hails his manager’s manner.

“My opinion is people get fascinated because it is not the norm. I’m not sure about other countries but we don’t like change. When we see something out of the ordinary… if Jim was to celebrate we’d say ‘wow this is different’.

“That’s just his style of management and it doesn’t mean it is wrong or right but that is his way and the success it has give him it has worked and that’s the way he manages.

“You might have someone like Mourinho who runs up and down the sideline because he wants to take the pressure off the players. It doesn’t mean he’s the other way, you know.

“The big thing is that the public… they expect something different from him, they expect him to be jumping around celebrating. It’s not wrong for him to be himself.

“It’s no different for Stephen Cluxton after 2011. People started speaking about why wasn’t he jumping around the pitch. That’s who he is. Why should he change for anybody?”

One things for sure anyway, Philly McMahon won’t.

All-Ireland champion Philly McMahon yesterday launched the second National Fitness Day which will take place on Friday 29 September, led by Ireland Active and supported by Healthy Ireland and Sport Ireland.

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