'I had my stag do on a NI trip to Thailand. It's just as well there were no mobile phones back in those days!'
Gerard McMahon reflects on glittering career that saw him star for Glenavon, Tottenham and NI
Gerard McMahon grew up supporting Liverpool when they dominated Europe. Later he would go on to become a Tottenham player for four years. It begs the question who the ex-Northern Ireland star will be cheering on in tonight's Champions League final.
"Definitely Liverpool. I've been supporting Liverpool longer than I played for Tottenham," he says with a smile.
No messing about. Straight question. Straight answer. That's Gerard McMahon, renowned not only for his wonderful skills and natural ability but also his disarming honesty.
Today there is great pride in football circles here at the growing number of Irish League players including Gavin Whyte, Mark Sykes, Paul Smyth and Bobby Burns moving across the water.
Lurgan native McMahon did it as an 18-year-old in 1992, leaving Glenavon, having scored the winning goal in the Irish Cup final against Linfield, for mighty Tottenham, then managed by Terry Venables. The fee? £100,000.
"I remember going over to Spurs. It was the first time I'd ever been on an aeroplane," recalls postman McMahon who at the time was being chased by a host of English and Scottish clubs.
"There was a whole entourage of us. The Glenavon manager Alan Fraser was there, so was the chairman, the reserve team manager and my mum and dad. We were picked up at the airport in a Rolls Royce and brought to a hotel.
"Terry Venables was the man who signed me but then he had a big public falling out with Alan Sugar and left.
"When I went over Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker were about to leave the club though I trained with them on my first day. That was interesting because you had Gazza taking the mick out of you. He was the same with everybody.
"The likes of Gary Mabbutt, Vinny Samways and Paul Stewart were there. They signed Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton that year, though I initially trained with the reserves who had good players too such as Nick Barmby and Sol Campbell.
"I fell in with Stephen Robinson (now the Motherwell manager) who was from back home and had been over there for a couple of years. He looked after me though I was still homesick for about a year and a half.
"Obviously when young lads go away now you can still miss your mum and dad and your friends but I think it's a lot easier today because you have Skype and mobile phones and all that. I used to post letters back home!
"Around that time Spurs went through quite a few managers. It was Gerry Francis who gave me my competitive debut at home to Coventry in 1995. The next week I played against Leeds at White Hart Lane. I was buzzing because I'd played well in both games but the season was over because they were the last two matches of the season.
"I started the next season and the first game was at home to Liverpool so I was against my heroes. It was the first time I had ever played central midfield and I was facing John Barnes and Jamie Redknapp. Barnes tortured me. He scored two that day. I was trying to get at him but he was just too strong and fended me off and put one in the top corner from 25 yards."
Despite never establishing himself as a regular, Spurs wanted to keep McMahon.
"They offered me another four year contract. I thought what they were offering me wasn't enough to be perfectly honest. Elsewhere I was getting offered four times what they had put on the table," said the 45-year-old.
"I went on loan to Udinese in Italy and Stuttgart in Germany. I loved Udinese and they offered me a deal but my agent didn't want to take it and I don't think my wife was too keen either so I ended up going to Stoke. I didn't enjoy that at all. They didn't play the type of football I wanted to play or was brought up playing at Spurs. Then I went to St Johnstone under Paul Sturrock who was a very good manager. They punched above their weight on a limited budget and we managed to get them into third place behind Celtic and Rangers.
"I actually played in the match when Celtic stopped Rangers winning 10 titles in a row.
"They beat us 2-0 and I remember they were one up and I put a cross in and we hit the bar. My mate is a big Celtic fan and he told me had that gone in he'd have killed me!"
In 2000, McMahon returned to Glenavon as a homecoming hero. He inspired the Lurgan Blues to runners-up spot behind Linfield in the title race in his first season.
"We had a very good side with the likes of Mark Glendinning, Garry Haylock, Rodney McAree and Darren Murphy but then it was broken up and we didn't replace them with enough quality. Then Glenavon went through turmoil for a long time before Gary Hamilton came in as manager," he said.
That turmoil included relegation in 2004. Prior to that McMahon broke his leg and was out for the best part of three seasons.
"I was never the same after it," says McMahon, husband to Adele and proud dad to Shannon (21), Christie (19), Lurgan Town player Kane (14) and Lily (2) and doting grandfather to baby Theo.
When Marty Quinn took over as boss at Mourneview Park, McMahon became reserve team boss and rather than continue playing preferred to give youngsters their chance, retiring a club hero aged 35.
Gerard, now living in Craigavon, does not hide the fact his best moment in Irish League football came when he was just a kid netting the decisive goal for Glenavon in the Cup final. It was only his 14th match for the Lurgan Blues.
"We had a good side then. Unfortunately in the final we had two of the best strikers ever to play in the Irish League - Glenn Ferguson and Stephen McBride - missing through injury," he said.
"Geoff Ferris came in and was outstanding and we had Raymond McCoy as well. You couldn't ask for a better left winger than McCoy.
"It was actually just luck that I got in that team. I was never getting ahead of McBride, Ferguson and McCoy up front. That season I played against Newry because Raymond had the flu and did reasonably well. In that game Stephen McBride did his cruciate so I stayed in the team and never looked back.
"The next match we beat Glentoran 4-0 in the Irish Cup and we kept going. Glenavon had an agreement with Spurs that I wasn't leaving until we were out of the Cup and we went on to make the final. To score against Linfield and win was just amazing but fate certainly played a part."
McMahon would go on to be assistant boss at Loughgall before taking charge of Dromara Village and Lurgan Celtic who he parted company with at the end of this season.
"I loved Dromara. Great people, great friends. The main reason I left was because Lurgan Celtic kicked off at 3pm and Dromara was 2pm. For me to finish work and get out to Dromara for 2pm was near impossible," he said with typical candour.
"I left Lurgan Celtic about four weeks ago. It was more or less work related too. It was hard for me to get finished in time and I was relying too much on the backroom team to take the warm-ups until I got there after work so I had to call it a day."
It is hoped that McMahon is not lost to the game. An engaging character with vast football knowledge, immense experience and a lovely way about him with young players, he is the type of guy the sport needs.
He can also tell a good yarn, especially from his time as a Northern Ireland international winning 17 caps and scoring twice at the highest level.
"I loved my time with Northern Ireland," he said.
"The away trips were great because you were around good friends. I knew people like Neil Lennon, Gerry Taggart and Pat McGibbon who came from my area and I made new friends like Michael Hughes and Michael O'Neill," he stated.
"When I moved to St Johnstone, Michael O'Neill came from Edinburgh to see me in Perth which I appreciated. He has always been a smart cookie and I'm pleased for him that he has done so well with Northern Ireland.
"I had my stag do on one of the away trips. We went to Thailand and another player, Jon McCarthy, and I were getting married that year so we had our stag do with the boys over there. It's just as well there were no mobile phones in those days!
"They were a great bunch of boys. You couldn't have been around better."