Mahon's fire has St Pat's setting the league alight
PETE MAHON is reminded that the 20-year anniversary of the memorable 1990 FAI Cup final is on the horizon. "It feels like 40 years," he laughs.
He was the man who led St Francis to Lansdowne Road for a showdown with Bray Wanderers, the fairytale story of a non-league team making Irish football's biggest day which brought 30,000 people to the venue, delaying the kick-off in the process. The Seagulls won the game, but it was the identity of the opposition which made the story.
The team will reunite on Friday, May 14, to commemorate that special journey, although there will be one very significant absentee from the celebrations.
Mahon will be in camp preparing for a Setanta Cup final with Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium the following night. "I'd love to be there, but duty calls," he says.
Mahon will turn 63 this summer, yet he is no mood to put up his feet and reflect on past glories. A temporary return to the game with St Patrick's Athletic towards the end of last season has turned into something far more substantial.
With John Gill by his side, Mahon landed the permanent gig and has transformed the Saints from overpaid misfits to an honest group with a teak-tough resolve.
Ten games into the campaign, they sit proudly on top of the Premier Division table, three points ahead of Dundalk and five ahead of the Shamrock Rovers team which visit Inchicore this evening. It promises to be a real Dublin football occasion. There's nowhere else that Mahon would rather be.
"Obviously when you're winning, then you are enjoying it," he says. "It's going well, but I'm long enough round the game to know things can change very quickly. But things are certainly going well, compared from where things were when I took over."
Certainly, the situation he inherited following the departure of Jeff Kenna last September was far from ideal. His musings on the attitudes of some players in the dressing room are unprintable.
It was the tail end of the fully professional era at Richmond Park, and the powers that be weren't getting value for money.
A large squad needed to be culled and the rebuilding process was based on a part-time budget. Remarkably, the new faces look more committed and organised than their full-time predecessors.
That is because Mahon and Gill concentrated on recruiting the kind of characters they could trust. They shopped wisely and relatively cheaply over the winter, with acquisitions such as Vinny Faherty and Shane Guthrie from Galway, Conor Kenna from Drogheda, Ian Bermingham from Shamrock Rovers along with Paul Byrne and Gareth Coughlan from Bray.
Kenna, Bermingham and Byrne were nurtured by Mahon at UCD, the side he
managed for six seasons until a parting of ways at the end of the 2008 campaign.
By his own admission, a step back was required after a busy period of his career which took in an ill-fated stint as manager of Bohs, where he initially had worked in the background following a first stint at St Pat's during the colourful Pat Dolan era.
"I needed the break, I hadn't had one in 12 years really," he says. "I finished my time with UCD on good terms. I'd taken them as far as I could and I felt it was time for someone else to come in and that's proven to be correct with how well Martin Russell has done."
Nevertheless, his interest in the game never wavered and he continued to attend matches on a weekly basis, free from the pressure. The opportunity to take the reins on Emmet Road interrupted that vacation.
"It came at just the right time," he admits. "It was the kind of challenge which really appealed, even though there was a lot of work to be done.
"We needed to get the right balance back in the dressing room, we did our homework on players before we agreed to sign them. That was important.
"It was in the terms and conditions when I took the job, that I got players in with a bit of fire in the belly," he says before adding, "I've got a bit of fire in the belly myself."