Philly McMahon still striving for improvement
By John Harrington
At the age of 29, Philly McMahon reckons he’s at the peak of his powers.
For the third season in a row his performance level has been impressively high and he has no intentions of letting those standards drop any time soon.
The older he’s gotten, the more obsessive he’s become about making sure he ticks ever box so he can extract the absolute maximum from himself.
"You do because the other players, they're certainly ticking those boxes and you will fall behind really quickly,” says McMahon.
“You are looking at all the elements and you, at this stage of my career you are always looking, when I was younger I was always looking for the extra edge, the extra gym session.
“But now I'm looking for, instead of the amount of time I'm spending in certain areas, I'm just trying to condense it down and have better quality in those areas.
“Making sure that my gym is done 100 per cent, my runs. Making sure I'm not dropping a yard or too. Nutrition is on point. Because I don't have that time.
“Whereas someone that's a student that is doing their extra gym session so I want to get quality out of what I have.”
As the owner of two businesses, time management is a skill that McMahon has had little option but to master.
So many inter-county players are now either students or teachers because having the summer off makes it so much easier to make the commitment required to play at the highest level.
McMahon doesn’t have that luxury, and combining his sport with his career is something of a juggling act.
“It's quite hard but the great thing is that Jim (Gavin) and the management are very supportive of what we do outside of football,” says McMahon.
“If we're struggling with certain things they will allow us to cater for whatever time we need. We're very lucky in terms of that.
“I'm sure there are other counties who have players studying in certain parts of the country or working in different parts of the country and they have to travel so we are very fortunate that we can work in Dublin.
“When you get to the stage where you are saying 'this is tough' or 'it's hard to get to training' you know what it's great to get out of bed, to put your feet on the ground and get up and walk.
“That's the way I see life. Complaining about your life and what you have, although time is very valuable, it doesn't get you anywhere.
“So you are fighting reality but you're not going to win. I'm very lucky that I have learned to get out of bed at what time I want, having my own business and having support of staff around me that I can take certain time off for a training camp or if I have things on like this.”
Everything the Dublin players do in training is measured. Every sprint they run, every weight they lift, every personal best they set is recorded.
Every time you feel a bit negative you've got this little thing called white space that changes your mindset
That makes it easy for McMahon to know if he’s hitting the same marks year on year in terms of his physical fitness, but that’s not the area he’s most interested in making gains in.
"It's one that is probably not as measurable, it's my mindset,” he says. “It's one that I would go after a lot myself.
“Other players will have different ones. Certainly I want to feel a bit better outside of football so when I play football I feel even better. So, it's about energy.
“So, every time you feel a bit negative you've got this little thing called white space that changes your mindset. It's that little voice in your head that says, 'Jesus you feel crap this morning, stay in bed, the weather is crap'.
“We have developed it since we were kids, not going to school on a Monday. You'll hate going to work on a Monday.
“Being able to shift that sub-conscious part is what my biggest challenge has been over the last 18 months.
"I would use a thing called power of choice, that every time you have something negative, a negative thought that you are self-assessing yourself, self-aware that you can actually shift that to a positive.
“The way I see it is that out of every negative thing is an opportunity. I've dealt with it all my life with my brother's situation or people developing a stigma about Ballymun.
“These are little opportunities that pop up.”
He believes one of the reasons he’s such an effective defender for Dublin is because he’s worked so hard on his mental strength.
When you play in the full-back line the contest with the man you’re marking is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one, and McMahon relishes the former as much as the latter.
“I just suppose I’m equipped to deal with them really well,” he says.
“It’s very hard to say you’re going to win a battle mentally unless you outperform a player that you’re marking.
“So, I would like to think that if a man said something to me to put me off my game, it draws more out of me. And if I do the same to the fella I’m marking, it draws more out of him.
“So, then we’re trying to get the best out of each other. That’s what I’m looking for. I want to mark the best players on top form and I want to see what I’m like.
“You have to remember that as a defender, you’re looking to change the mindset of the forward. Because all you’re doing is chasing them around the pitch.
“So, if they’re thinking about me – whether that’s marking me going up the pitch or trying to get into my head or trying to ruffle me up – that’s great.
“They’re thinking of me, not the game. That’s the game I see.”