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'What did I do tonight to make myself better tomorrow?': How Philly McMahon stays motivated

McMahon and Dublin have won four All-Irelands in the last six years.

Philly McMahon was at the GAA's launch of the Healthy Clubs Project
Philly McMahon was at the GAA's launch of the Healthy Clubs Project
Image: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

THERE’S A PASSAGE at the beginning of Paul O’Connell’s autobiography where he’s discussing the 2006 Heineken Cup semi-final between Munster and Leinster.

With twenty minutes to go at Lansdowne Road Munster are leading by 16-3, and O’Connell turns to his teammate Jerry Flannery.

“I’m so fit it’s unbelievable,” he tells the hooker.

Munster Celebrations Marcus Horan, John Hayes, Donncha O'callaghan, Jerry Flannery and Paul O'Connell celebrate with the Heineken Cup in 2006 Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

O’Connell, who would go on to enjoy a remarkable career for province and country, later recognised he was experiencing what sports psychologists often refer to as peak performance.

“I was 26 years old, injury-free and in my prime,” O’Connell wrote. “For the rest of my career I never forgot how good I’d felt that day, the physical shape I was in, and I was always chasing that feeling.

“That game was like a reference point for me, and occasionally I got myself back there, but it didn’t happen as often as I’d like.”

Chasing that peak performance also serves as motivation for Dublin defender Philly McMahon, who recently read the Munster legend’s book.

“He (O’Connell) says he’s always chasing to have his best performance,” explains McMahon. “He had a really good year and after that for the rest of his career he was always trying to get to that stage again. That’s similar to what I’m like.

“I suppose 2015 was a really good year for me. When I looked back I said, ‘could I have done anymore?’ Yes, but a little bit less than other years.

Philly McMahon Philly McMahon lets fly during the 2016 quarter-final against Donegal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“You keep the same goal, but you build on it. If my goal was to get the Dublin jersey, and the following year my goal was to be the best corner back (in Ireland), I could miss out on that first goal and probably not get the jersey, so what’s the point in having that one?

“What’s the point in thinking of playing if you haven’t got the jersey? For me, (the goal is) to get the jersey again. Every day, to be better – to go home after training every night and to say to myself, ‘What did I do tonight to make myself better tomorrow?’ That’s the big thing for me.”

Like McMahon, this Dublin group are an intrinsically motivated bunch. They’ve won four All-Irelands in six years and last year joined Kerry as the only two counties in the last 20 years to retain the Sam Maguire.

Jim Gavin’s men boast a 29-game unbeaten run across the league and championship. In 2017, they’re chasing the ghost of Mick O’Dwyer’s last great Kingdom side. The Dubs are aiming to become the first team to achieve a three-in-a-row since Kerry did it in 1986.

Pat Spillane and Kevin McCabe 1986 Kerry's Pat Spillane in action during the 1986 All-Ireland final Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“I just said to the lads going over on the plane to Jamaica,” he says. “It’s funny, the last ten years, Kerry would have done all those trips. And now we’re getting the chance.

“You look at the experience they have, what they’ve won and you go ‘We haven’t done that.’ So they are a benchmark as a county in what they’ve achieved over the generations. They’ve won the most All-Irelands so they are still a benchmark in that respect.

“In this gap, the last six years, our benchmark is what we base ourselves off. We’re looking to see what we can do better every year.

“From the overall perspective, they are the most successful county in terms of the titles they’ve won. But we’re focusing on us. Let the rest focus on us if they want as well.”

Dublin have been beaten just once in the championship since Gavin took charge in 2013 – to Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final.

McMahon believes at least part of the reason they’re able to maintain such high standards and dominate the football landscape is down to Gavin’s ability to retain a freshness in the camp.

“He’s brought something new in every year. You’re successful one year and your standards are at a certain point. The other counties then get up to those standards and if you don’t get up to another level you’re going to be knocked out or ​you’re not going to win anything.

Jim Gavin Dublin boss Jim Gavin Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s what happened us in 2014 against Donegal, we didn’t evolve. We didn’t evolve on the pitch that day and you just have to be ready for every eventuality. We weren’t ready that day, tactically, as players on the pitch, we didn’t act and we faced the consequences for it.

“Every year Jim has brought something new to the set up. He freshens it up with new players coming in, he tactically changes things. I think most managers do it. We just need to set the standards and then go beyond it so that other teams have to try to get up to a higher standard.”

The bulk of the All-Ireland winning squad started back training last night, not long after returning home from the team holiday in Jamaica.

“I was reflecting a little bit on the beach (while I was) looking around. Some of the players and management team walking by you and you’re just looking and thinking, isn’t it great that we can go away and relax together as a team and a collective.

The lads 😎🇯🇲

A photo posted by phillymcmahon (@phillymcmahon) on

“And that the kids of the management team and the partners and wives, for all the effort they’ve put in throughout the year, that they get trip from it. That’s the best thing from them holidays.

“Apart from the down-time and recharging the batteries, it’s great to see the people that are surrounding the Dublin team getting a chance to enjoy themselves with the players.”

Is his mind and body ready to go through it all again?

“The head is recharged. You can recharge your head but your body has to follow then after. When we go back training you want to really run hard, but your body doesn’t adapt as quick as your head does.

“So when you have a period of downtime and you go on a holiday, your head gets in a good place and you get eager to go back and play, but your body has to follow. So it takes time for your body to get back into it.”

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