Thursday 8 December 2016

'We used to celebrate Leinster games, now it's just All-Irelands'

Michael Verney

Published 12/10/2016 | 02:30

Dublin’s Philly McMahon at the launch of the Ireland Active Conference and White Flag National Quality Awards. Photo Credit: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Dublin’s Philly McMahon at the launch of the Ireland Active Conference and White Flag National Quality Awards. Photo Credit: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

They sit at the head of football's top table having joined the great Dublin side of 1976/'77 with back-to-back All-Ireland titles, and four of the last six Sam Maguire wins, but Philly McMahon has no intention of stopping there.

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There's a realisation among this exceptional Dublin group that it could all come crashing down at the drop of a hat so they intend to extract the maximum while leading the pack and as one of the game's most recognisable faces, with BeDo7 gyms and FitFood business booming off the pitch, McMahon appreciates his privileged position.

He takes nothing for granted. While three in a row will never be discussed inside Jim Gavin's dressing-room, Dublin won't lack for motivation.

"We're part of a group of players that understand how lucky we are. There's a lot of lads there that we could say to each other, 'Look, let's stay grounded here. Let's realise what we have'. So we're very lucky," he says. "I've played with a Dublin team that were poor. They just didn't have the chemistry that we have now. Being successful is about trying to get everything out of it while we can, with the short career that we have.

"It's a really short career as a footballer, especially as a defender. With the success that Dublin have had, there's always young talent coming in trying to get on that bandwagon a little bit quicker. That's why players can't become complacent; we have to focus on each year as it comes.

"You look at the changing room after the final, and we're all celebrating. You're looking around the room and you're saying, 'This team isn't going to be here next year - it's going to be a different team next year'.

"People will retire, you'll have players coming in. People with injuries. So, you just don't know what's going to change, what's going to happen. So that's why you stay so grounded and you take every minute as you can."

As a 29-year-old teetotaller with no major injury problems throughout his career, the Ballymun defender is thankful for his career thus far but he acknowledges that achievements are now measured differently in the capital compared to his debut season in 2008. The goalposts have moved, and while it wasn't always the case, national honours are all that's on their minds.

"When we won a game in Leinster we were probably celebrating the same for an All-Ireland quarter- or semi-final. Now that's completely changed. Maybe we would have went out for the next day and probably went for golf and a few drinks after that," McMahon says.

"But nowadays because we've been successful it takes a lot more for us to kind of go, 'We need to celebrate' so I think it's definitely changed, the success factors have changed. You don't really celebrate winning a quarter-final of an All-Ireland whereas when I was there initially, the lads were going out for two days after winning a Leinster game."

While not scaling the heights of previous years, the Dubs ground out a replay victory over Mayo, something they have done with remarkable consistency since their shock semi-final defeat to Donegal two years ago.

Smarter

Lessons were learned from that August afternoon when Jim McGuinness' side exploited previously unimaginable holes and it has been the bedrock of their success. They're now "smarter footballers" capable of adapting to anything.

They don't wait for decisions to be made, they react themselves and McMahon believes they were prepared for anything thrown at them in 2016 while surprised that nothing new materialised.

"This year we came up against all the eventualities and we were able to deal with them. We've had the management team drilling all the possibilities into us. They had us ready and we didn't see anything different I suppose against Mayo," he says. "Nobody this year I don't think came up with anything that was different to what we've experienced this year in the league and in the championship. In a way we were expecting something different so that really kept us on our toes."

The grounded Dubs will be on their toes again in 2017 and if teams don't change their ways, they're likely to create more history.

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