Philly McMahon: 'I don't care about legacies'

By John Harrington

If Dublin beat Mayo on Sunday and win fourth All-Ireland Final in six years, this generation of Dublin players will be hailed as some of the greatest in the history of the game.

Such plaudits mean little to Philly McMahon though. The way he sees it, the only recognition that really matters is the honour to be picked on a Dublin team in the first place. Public kudos and even silverware are secondary considerations.

And the Ballymun man couldn’t care less if people think the Dublin team of this decade are leaving a greater imprint on the game that the famous side of the seventies.

He’s simply motivated by the desire to pull on that sky-blue jersey every day he possibly can rather than leaving a legacy that will be long remembered by others. 

“I don't play football for that reason,” says McMahon. “I don't think most of the lads do. We didn't start off playing for Dublin to be 'the great Dublin team'.

“Like, I started on the Dublin team when we had nowhere near a chance of winning an All-Ireland. Anyone that speaks about being 'the next great Dublin team' is probably outside of our circle anyway. Because we don't think about that.

“A legacy for me would be playing for Dublin. It wouldn't be saying afterwards, 'I'm the great Dublin player'. That would be disrespectful to all the Dublin players that have come before us.

“Because they've put the shift in that we've put in and just because we've got the bit of tin ware at the end of it doesn't mean we deserve any respect as a player.

“Now, that's probably hard to understand from the outside from someone that's not a player. But I respect the players that have played before me and that will come after me.

“That's the legacy that I personally want to leave, that I done my bit for Dublin GAA. Not that I was there to be the great player or on the great team of Dublin.”

Ray Cosgrove believes the quest to match the back-to-back All-Ireland winning exploits of the 1977 Dublin team puts pressure on the current side.
Ray Cosgrove believes the quest to match the back-to-back All-Ireland winning exploits of the 1977 Dublin team puts pressure on the current side.

It’s because of that attitude he wasn’t the slightest bit dismayed he didn’t win the Footballer of the Year award last year even though many would say his performances justified the honour.

“Look it, a lot of people say, and you hear it all the time at the All-Star awards, 'oh I don't really care, I wanted to win for the team'.

“I actually didn't care if I didn't win it, I honestly can say that. Because there's times where I've seen footballers that should have won All-Stars and they didn't.

“Sometimes there's people have won All-Stars that shouldn't have. So I don't really care about it, I honestly don't.”

McMahon’s Dublin team-mate Jack McCaffrey was instead voted the 2015 Footballer of the Year, and he was certainly a worthy winner after a series of brilliant displays in the Championship.

There’s a good chance too though that some players probably found it easier to vote for McCaffrey than they would have McMahon because the Ballymun man doesn’t exactly endear himself to opposition players in the heat of battle.

He knows himself he’s not the most popular player around, and accepts that’s why he was unlikely to ever voted Footballer of the Year.

“That's what it is, isn't it? It is a popularity contest,” says McMahon. “Sure I won't be the most popular county footballer throughout my career. I accept that, once I can do my bit for the team.

“Yeah, like, I like to think I'm a nice person off the pitch. On the pitch, I'm there to do what I can to help my team win.”

Philly McMahon won an All-Star award last year but failed to win the Footballer of the Year award.
Philly McMahon won an All-Star award last year but failed to win the Footballer of the Year award.

He’s not bothered about whether or not he earns the respect of the opposition or leaves a footballing legacy, but he would like to leave a legacy of sorts in his Ballymun community.

He is in the process of setting up a charity called Half Time Talk, which will push drug awareness education and provide help to recovering addicts and their families.

“The stigma in Ballymun needs to change,” says McMahon. “There's not really that many role models in sporting terms in Ballymun at the minute.

“Yeah, I definitely think that, like, I'm trying to change what a role model is in my community. I'm trying to get people to realise that it doesn't have to be a sports person, that it can be someone that's come through adversity and I think people will probably better connect with people that way.

“Because there's not that many people who are going to play for Dublin, from Ballymun.”

When McMahon spoke to the GAA media last week he had come from the launch of a new drugs strategy where he was representing his charity.

As well as his charity work, McMahon also runs two very successful business. Considering how demanding a hobby inter-county football is nowadays, time-management is clearly a skill that he excels at.

“I have a thing called a default diary so I separate different things in my life - sport, the personal side, the professional side,” he says.

"It's funny, you basically look at different colours of your roster for the week. At the start of the season, if work was yellow, it would be full, because it's January and the fitness craze happens.

"But, as the season goes on, that colour might change to blue because it's football season then. Little tricks like that help me, I suppose.”

Sacrifices have to be made along the way too though, and McMahon knows he’ll probably only have the time necessary to really grow his gym and food businesses and bring them to the next level once his playing career ends.

"Everybody has their different ways but, for me, I understand that your football career at inter-county level is not that long,” he says.

"You need to be looking beyond that a little bit sometimes as well in your career. I don't think, where I want to be in life, I'd be able to stop everything and wait until I finished my football career.

"I'm hoping to get my business to a level that, when I finish my career, it can go to another level. Maybe in the next couple of years, I think the food company can go really big. The gyms can, as well.

"But the way the market has changed, the way Ireland is starting to be a bit more healthier because of the obesity levels, I think the healthy food industry is going to get bigger and bigger.

"When that gets bigger, I'm probably going to have to spend more time in the company to grow it, to strategically build it. But I'm OK at the minute now, I suppose.”

There are surely plenty of corner-forwards out there who would prefer if McMahon concentrated on his business at the expense of his sport in the short-term, because the Ballymun man has maintained his high level of performance again this year.

He’ll be a key man for the Dubs once more on Sunday as they bid to win back to back titles, but the prospect of claiming that slice of history isn’t what motivates him.

All he wants from the day is to experience the atmosphere generated by a full-house in Croke Park and be part of a team that gives their all. After the nature of their semi-final win over Kerry, he’s confident they’ll do just that.

“I suppose the big questions we answered against Kerry is that we showed character,” says McMahon. “Kerry are such a good team that to come back, twice, after them taking the lead, like, we could have easily let it slip and lost.

“The lads showed character. I always compare it to the Conor McGregor fight, third round he's getting beaten and comes back and shows character and beats Diaz.

“That was no different to what we did against Kerry. We know it's not going to be a hammering on either side, us hammering Mayo, or Mayo hammering us.

“We know it's going to be tight. Again, having experience what we did against Kerry and that character that we needed, it should stand to us against Mayo.”