Pe op le
With a stellar career and a never-say-die
attitude on the pitch, coupled with a keen
business acumen off it, three-time All-Ireland
winner Philly McMahon has become a role
model for a new generation, writes Aaron Rogan
6263 IRISH TATLER MAN
Dublin’s Philly McMahon celebrates with
the Sam Maguire cup after the GAA
Football All-Ireland Senior Championship
Final, Croke Park, 20 September, 2015
sually the story is the he says of the year when he was broken down by Gilroy and built himself
teenage athlete who works back up.
hard to get the flash car,
“For that year I wanted to kill everybody because I got dropped, I had
Ubut for Philly McMahon it aggression towards the idea of not playing for Dublin. It’s a hurtful thing
was the opposite. to be dropped by something that you love.
Out of school in 2007 and into his first job, McMahon used the wages “I became a very aggressive footballer but I worked to get it controlled
earned in the Dublin City University gym to fund a new car. “I won’t say so it is to my advantage. I use it to get the edge over my opponent without
how much, but it was a decent loan, a stupid loan for a lad my age,” he crossing the line – but at that stage I just needed to be playing football to
says now. improve and that’s what I did in that year.
“In DCU I was surrounded by people talking about getting degrees. I’d “It was a good year in the end but it was an eye-opener to channel the
only done a diploma, so everyone said to try for a sports scholarship or to aggression in the right way and to come back with answers for Pat.”
wait until I was a mature student. But I didn’t want to depend on that, so
I decided to just go back and repeat my Leaving Cert,” McMahon recalls. Since then, McMahon has had answers for everyone else who’s asked
questions of him as well: Aidan O’Shea, Michael Murphy, Kieran Donaghy,
So a few months later, he had quit his job to concentrate fully on his Seán Cavanagh, Cillian O’Connor. So he feels he deserves everything he
studies and was pulling into the school playground in an Audi A4. gets now.
“I wanted to get rid of it but I couldn’t because of the price; I’d never “Over the last couple of years, it has all been about corner forwards,
have covered the loan again. Thankfully, I couldn’t because if I got rid of that’s who the kids want to be. But if they’re the best players and I do my
it, I wouldn’t have had to struggle enough to know how to get the gyms,” job, I must be one of the best players that day,” he says. But he understands
he says. why, even in Ballymun, young players want to be Bernard Brogan rather
than Philly McMahon.
“I thought I was great driving around in my fancy car but I ended up
living on €2 a day when I was repeating the Leaving Cert. My parents “When you’re a kid playing chasing, you want to be chased; you don’t
would feed me when I got home, but I’d buy a big long roll on a Monday want to be the one chasing everyone else, but that’s what I’m doing when
and make my sandwiches for the week off it. I was in school all day and I’m marking someone. It’s a hard position to play but I’m lucky because
then studying, working for a few extra quid and training with the club at Jim Gavin allows us to express ourselves when we can and asks us to
night. It was tough but at least I didn’t have to get the bus, I suppose.” use the attributes we have to move the ball fast and play that expansive
football. But you have every eye in Croke Park watching over you to make
McMahon, having learned his lesson young, has invested in himself sure you’re not fouling their favourite man. I enjoy that, though.”
ever since and now runs four gyms under the BKfitness brand, named
after his home club Ballymun Kickhams. The 28-year-old has also picked McMahon has seen enough real pressure in his life to worry about
up three All-Irelands, two National Leagues and five Leinster titles in that what football fans think. In 2012 his brother, John Caffrey, died from a
time. This year he added a player of the year nomination to his All Star and heart condition after battling drug addiction for years. Having finally got
earned a reputation as one of the fiercest defenders in the modern game. clean in 2010, McMahon hoped he would be able to come to Croke Park
for the semi-final in 2012 but he was in poor health and died a few weeks
That reputation has also marked him out for the brickbats of GAA after the match. McMahon has started a scholarship in his brother’s
punditry. To them, McMahon wouldn’t get away with the way he plays if name and has used the publicity from his role in this year’s All-Ireland to
he wasn’t part of the favoured Boys in Blue – he’s a player who has to cross talk up Ballymun whenever he can.
the line to prosper and he’s only there because of his aggression. Last
summer, and well into autumn, McMahon was the subject of controversy “The kids in the area have low self-esteem and that’s not helped by
around an eye gouge on Kieran Donaghy in the All-Ireland final. people from outside putting us down. I grew up with that. In a way it
makes us tighter together but it pushes us away from the people outside
McMahon denied it in the aftermath and Donaghy said nothing, but a the community.
documentary of the final relayed the direct evidence.
“When I get to talk, I want to show that people from here will be the
“It’s always the back, it’s always the back. Donaghy is hitting me when next Dublin footballers, singers, Olympians or whatever else they want.
I am trying to make a block. David, I swear to God I didn’t do anything. There is talent in the area but people don’t have the self-esteem to see
I didn’t do anything,” McMahon tells David Coldrick, the referee. that at the moment,” he says.
After the incident, Donaghy says clearly: “He gouged my eye on the In between buying his suit for the All Star awards and planning the team
ground, Dave.” holiday to Thailand, where he says he’ll let his girlfriend do the partying as
he’s teetotal, McMahon has been raising money for the scholarship.
“I didn’t see that now, Kieran. That was just two lads competing,
that’s all,” the referee responds. “In 2012 we took 20 18-24-year-olds on social welfare to do a course to
learn how to be a personal trainer; 13 completed it and went on to further
McMahon said he never attempted to gouge, but the review committee education or got jobs.
banned him for a match for making contact with the eye area. He took
the ban, with the Dublin board opting not to appeal because they said “When we went to get funding again it was cut, so this year we’re going
they didn’t want the incident dragging on. to set up a private institute that will fund the social scholarship. If someone
wants to come in and do a fitness course, they pay their fees here and part
The Ballymun man has never denied he was aggressive but says he is of that goes towards the John Caffrey scholarship for 18-24-year-olds in the
in the Dublin team despite that, rather than because of it. In 2009 when Ballymun area,” he says.
Pat Gilroy took over from Paul Caffrey and dropped the recently called-up
McMahon, the then 21-year-old was devastated. “That way it’s self-funded and we don’t have to rely on anyone else,
because the only way to get something done is to do it yourself.” ITM
“I got game time in 2008 and I thought I could prove myself to nail
down a spot. It was only a couple of weeks in when he said he was going
to drop me.
“I’ve been thinking of that conversation recently because it hurt and
most lads at that age would just go off and make a few quid in the States
or go travelling. You’re told that you only get the one opportunity but I
stayed and played with my club – it was the best year I had with the club,”
6465 IRISH TATLER MAN
THERE IS TALENT
DON’T HAVE THE
SEE THAT AT THE
Portrait photography Hazel Coonagh