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Committed Dublin ace Philly McMahon fighting stigmas on and off field

By Declan Bogue

Published 13/09/2016

Giving back: Philly McMahon, set for his third All-Ireland final with Dublin, is aiming to change the stigma in the deprived area he grew up in
Giving back: Philly McMahon, set for his third All-Ireland final with Dublin, is aiming to change the stigma in the deprived area he grew up in

As important as the build-up to an All-Ireland final might be to teams and players alike, the role of trying to snuff out Mayo talisman Aidan O'Shea won't even be close to the most important thing Dublin's Philly McMahon will do this week.

He's not to everyone's taste, and you know what? He's fine with that. Asked if it stings that he did not win the Player of the Year award last year, and told it is awarded on a vote among inter-county players, he answered: "That's what it is, isn't it? It is a popularity contest.

"I won't be the most popular county footballer throughout my career. I accept that, once I can do my bit for the team."

He does his bit for the team and does it exceptionally well. But few people in the GAA do quite as much for their own community as McMahon.

The 29-year-old's back story is untypical of most county footballers.

Brought up in Ballymun among serious social deprivation, crime and substance dependence, his brother John died at the age of 31 in 2013 after a long battle with drug addiction.

"I'm trying to live his legacy. John shaped me into who I am today," he said last year. "People often ask me how I started to play football and it was because of him."

McMahon went his own way and made it onto the Dublin panel in 2008. A non-smoker and teetotaller, he now runs four gyms in the city and has a kitchen in Glasnevin with dedicated chefs producing healthy meals for people to purchase by the week.

He has also set up a scheme for the local area that incorporates fitness training with the ultimate aim of getting people into steady employment.

When he was growing up in a four-storey block of flats on Sillogue Avenue the notion of going to college wasn't popular, yet he became the first in his family to do so.

"The stigma in Ballymun needs to change," he said this week.

"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.

"I think people will probably connect better with people that way. There's not that many people from Ballymun who are going to play for Dublin."

The charity is called the 'Half-time Talk'. Last week he was busy at the launch of their consultation for the next six weeks, which will concentrate on attitudes towards drugs and addicts.

McMahon says it's about "trying to change the stigma in society and then helping recovering addicts."

He said: "I spoke to a friend and he was telling me about his sister going on to achieve great things.

"She went through really tough adversity in her life and she's now doing amazing things in her career.

"So I want to take people like that and tell their story so that others can listen to it and bounce off it, and maybe believe they can do it."

Inevitable comparisons to the team of the 1970s have emerged during this golden period of Dublin football.

That great side still meet up for golf holidays and functions, and there were a number of high-achievers among their number, such as the famous surgeon Dave Hickey, who is part of the current backroom team, the soccer international Kevin Moran, and Tony Hanahoe, who captained and managed Dublin to the 1977 All-Ireland while working as a solicitor.

It is with reverence to that great group that McMahon - who is preparing for his third All-Ireland final this Sunday - talks of the 'legacy' of the current edition.

Asked if the defending champions can truly be regarded as a great team if they fail to achieve back-to-back All-Irelands this weekend, he stated: "I don't play football for that reason.

"I don't think most of the lads do. We didn't start off playing for Dublin to be 'the great Dublin team'.

"A legacy for me would be playing for Dublin."

McMahon, however, is leaving more than most in terms a legacy, on and off the field.

Belfast Telegraph

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