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Dublin: 7 °C Wednesday 19 December, 2018

'We were going around on a Sunday morning picking dog s*** off the pitch'

At just 33, Dubliner Daryl McMahon is carving out a successful career as manager of Ebbsfleet United.

DARYL MCMAHON WAS determined not to end up as just another statistic.

One of the thousands of elite, young footballers who leave Ireland to chase their dream in the professional game, but return home with it shattered after being cut loose by ruthless clubs.

Daryl McMahon 24/4/2000 A teenaged McMahon. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

A deal in England appeared to be on the cards from early on in his schoolboy career. Originally from Clondalkin, Daryl began lining out for Neilstown Rangers at the age of seven but joined top Dublin side Cherry Orchard after a couple of years.

When his family moved to Kevin Street in the south inner city, it made more sense for the teenager to find a club close by. The decision was made that he would sign for Belvedere and travel across the Liffey to Fairview Park.

Future Ireland internationals Stephen Elliott and Stephen Kelly were team-mates at Belvo, while a little magician by the name of Wesley Hoolahan was already earning a reputation the year above him.

Himself a ball-playing midfielder, McMahon was being picked in the DDSL representative squads since the age of 12 and he soon began to catch the attention of potential suitors.

There were trials at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, but something about West Ham stood out from the rest in his eyes.

“I went to West Ham and loved it,” McMahon tells The42. “It was in East London and reminded me of Dublin, as a working class sort of club.

“The training ground wasn’t as good as the others but there was a charm about it. They made me feel at home.”

Soccer - FA Premier Reserve League South - West Ham United v Charlton Athletic During his West Ham days. Source: EMPICS Sport

Unlike so many of his peers, McMahon settled into life at the Hammers surprisingly well with the help of some older academy players who would go on to achieve great things in the game.

“I was alright, to be honest,” he replies, when asked about homesickness. “We had a big house and I lived with a load of lads in the digs. I was one of the youngest in there but we had people like Shaun Byrne, who was captain of the Ireland U16 team that won the European Championship with Brian Kerr.

“Then there were the likes of Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe and Leon Britton. They were all a bit older than me but we had great craic in the house. It was very easy to settle in and it didn’t take me too long.”

An Ireland international at U16, U17 and U18 level, McMahon represented the Boys in Green in the 2000 European Championship along with Keith Fahey, Paddy McCarthy, Sean Dillon, Sean Thornton, Wayne Henderson, Mark Rossiter and Liam Kearney among others.

It was a great experience and looking back on it now you were playing against some top, top players — although you didn’t know it at the time,” he says.

Euro 2016 winner Ricardo Quaresma scored two goals in the final to win that tournament for Portugal, while Robin van Persie, Jose Antonio Reyes and Jermaine Pennant all featured for their respective nations.

Keith Graydon/Daryl McMahon/Andreas Ingel  25/10/1999 McMahon (right) and Ireland team-mate Keith Graydon facing Sweden for Ireland's U16s. Source: Lorraine O 'Sullivan/INPHO

Back at West Ham, he was progressing nicely but two injuries — cruciate knee damage and shin splints — hampered his development over a two-year period.

The club finished 18th in the top flight in 2003 meaning demotion to the Championship, and a change in manager saw McMahon depart.

“West Ham was great,” he says. “The year they got relegated from the Premier League, I was one of the only young lads to get a new contract under Glenn Roeder. Then Alan Pardew came in and totally changed how we played.

“He brought his own players in. That’s when I got released and fell away from it really.”

The realisation that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to line out in the claret and blue at senior level was understandably hard to take, but McMahon used the setback as extra motivation to succeed.

“It is disheartening but you also want to prove them wrong,” he explains. “It is what it is and I just got on with it.

“The biggest thing for me was not going home. Not that there is anything wrong with it, but I didn’t want to be a statistic about the kids who go away at 15 and by 20 they’re done with football.

I wanted to be someone who could forge a career somewhere and that drove me on.”

So it was off to Port Vale on a short-term deal but he never settled and made the switch to Leyton Orient just three months later.

There, McMahon became a regular in the side and gained interest from then League One clubs Swansea City and Huddersfield Town. He opted to stay, however, and in 2006 they won promotion to the third tier of English football in dramatic style.

“We went up on the last day of the season,” he remembers. “We had to beat Oxford United away and they needed to win to stay up. We beat them 3-2 so we got promoted and they went down.

“When you have had disappointments in football, to go on to play senior football regularly and win promotion is brilliant. It was a great experience and I met some brilliant people.”

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Two - Leyton Orient v Bristol Rovers - Mathroom Stadium Facing Bristol Rovers' Michael Leary while at Leyton Orient. Source: Adam Davy

After stints at Stevenage — where he won the FA Trophy — and Cambridge United, the midfielder joined semi-professional side Farnborough and used the spare time to obtain his coaching badges.

It soon became apparent that he had a passion for that side of the game and McMahon began working in the academies at Boreham Wood and Dagenham & Redbridge while continuing to play.

He was now looking at coaching as a career path and spent two years with Tottenham’s academy. Joining Ebbsfleet United on a playing contract in 2013, McMahon was asked to take over their underage set-up and put a training programme in place.

“You can’t buy the experience,” he says. “At Dagenham, we had to fight and scrap to get players. The facilities weren’t great, we were going around on a Sunday morning before the lads played picking dog shit off the pitch.

“It was just part of the job and if you didn’t do it, nobody would and the kids couldn’t play. Then when you got to Tottenham you had the best pitches and it’s a lot easier.

“Having all those different experiences definitely helps you. Dealing with players from various backgrounds, some with one or no parents, you get to know these kids and you become more rounded so you can help them a little bit more.

“I did the rounds behind the scenes in academies before becoming a first team manager. People might be starting to hear about my story now but I’ve been doing it for six years.”

As a player who didn’t reach his full potential, McMahon has been putting that experience to good use when it comes to his coaching and man-management.

“I would definitely say I was a failed footballer because I should have achieved a lot more than I did,” he admits.

“As a younger player, I probably should have adapted more rather than saying ‘I have to play this way’. I was more into getting the ball down and it may have went against me sometimes.

“As a manager, I have younger players in my team who remind me of myself at that age. They’ve probably been overlooked at times because they play a certain way and I’m trying to help them.”

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Ebbsfleet United v Charlton Athletic - Stonebridge Road McMahon captained Ebbsfleet United before taking over as manager. Source: Stephen Pond/EMPICS Sport

At the age of just 31, Ebbsfleet offered him the job of senior manager. Going from club captain to first team manager could have proved testing but the squad adapted to his change of roles well.

“They were all fine about it,” McMahon says. “A lot of them that I played with are still here. When I was captain of the team I was probably a bridge between the players and the management. I was very honest with the players — whether I knew them, didn’t know them or had signed them.

“Whatever level you have played at before, everyone is treated the same in my eyes.”

Having been previously owned by 27,278 members through website, Ebbsfleet had fallen into significant debt but was saved from potentially going out of business when Kuwaiti investors took over in 2013.

And current owner Dr Abdulla Al-Humaidi has ploughed serious investment into the club in recent years.

We’re very lucky at Ebbsfleet,” McMahon tells. “We’re owned by a Kuwaiti and we are a fairly-well backed club. He just spent £10 million on a stadium and we’ve got a training ground that’s probably League One standard.

“He’s building a theme park in the area and bought the football club as well. He went to school in Ireland, I think he attended Trinity College. He’s a great guy to work for and he’s very supportive. The day-to-day running of the club is done by [vice chairman] Peter Varney.”

Competing in National League South (two divisions below League Two), the objective was to push them one step closer to the Football League.

“It’s a long-term project as opposed to a short-term one. The owner wanted to develop a style of football that he enjoys watching, which was a big attraction for me.”

And the first two seasons in management have gone extremely well for ‘Macca’. After finishing second in his debut campaign, Ebbsfleet lost out to Maidstone United in the play-off final.

12 months on, however, they clinched a 2-1 win over Chelmsford City at the same stage to win promotion to the National League in May — despite having a man sent off late in the first half.

“To finally get over the line was brilliant,” he says. “When you go down to 10 men in the first half and they score, you’re thinking ‘not again’. But we managed to perform really well in that second half.

“I couldn’t have really asked for much more. There have been ups and downs along the way, but in the first season we amassed 84 points and last season we got 96, so that is a pretty good return.”

Daryl McMahon Source: Twitter/@EUFCofficial

Returning to the top flight outside the Football League for the first time since 2013, McMahon is optimistic that his squad has the right blend to be competitive.

“We’re well-backed and for the last two seasons we’ve probably been the big fish in the league. There has been a pressure with that but now going into the National League it will be a different story.

“We’ve got a nice mix of young, hungry players who can go on as well as a sprinkling of real quality who have played at a higher level as well.”

“To be competitive will be the main thing. We’re going to be looking at finishing as high as we can, where that is we’ll find out. I don’t see why we can’t be competitive.”

Although he refuses to predict what the future holds due to the cut-throat nature of football management, the Dubliner is hugely-ambitious and, at 33, he’s got time on his side.

“I’d love to [manage in the Football League], but it’s one of those jobs that you can never look too far ahead,” he adds. “I’ve just signed a five-year contract at Ebbsfleet, which is unusual for this level.

“The board have great faith in me and I’ve got brilliant staff — my assistant manager Steve Gritt and David Jupp the goalkeeping coach have got great experience. The team is working hard to be successful and if we could manage Ebbsfleet in the Football League that would be brilliant.”

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