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McMahon savouring different kind of glory

 

By Declan Bogue

The end of county football came for Joe McMahon on an April night in the car park of Kelly's Inn, Garvaghey.

It was the sort of evening he had put in hundreds of times. Travel to training, kit out, do the session, something to eat, head home. Only this time he soaked up everything to do with the evening, relishing it all.

And at the end, he cornered his manager Mickey Harte and told him that it was all over. A groin problem had been at him for a long time but the more he pushed the latest injury, a new one would flare up. A hamstring injury forced the end.

"It was just eating away at me, at the back of my mind. I suppose any time I was getting ready to go to training, you were heading up and seeing the physios. It was a sense that 'what am I doing here?' Seeing the fellas heading out onto the pitch and I was heading to the gym," says McMahon now of the decision to bring down the curtain on his 14-year county career.

"You are doing everything that you can to get back, and you just feel as though you are going nowhere with it. You're thinking 'These fellas are absolutely flying here and I am at this level…'

"I had a lot of work to do to get caught up. It was a constant feeling, a constant thought."

And so he found a welcome embrace in the arms of his club, Omagh St Enda's.

Perhaps their manager Paddy Crozier - the former Derry coach in his second spell with the Healy Park outfit - knew he was onto something at the start of the year when he made 'Big Joe' his captain.

Because, by his own admission, from the start of the year whenever McMahon visualised himself playing football and doing the simple things well - a hallmark of the play that had Sean Cavanagh hailing him as "the best all-round player I have come across" upon his retirement announcement - it was in the white and black of Omagh and not the white and red of Tyrone.

"I had been playing with the club, been part of the club in the off-season, and at that stage it was in the back of my mind that, 'this is me now'," he reveals.

"I felt already away from the county that my future was there with the club. Anything I was ever doing in the gym, I was just looking forward to the club and playing with your club.

"I suppose I had spent from 2004 - and even before that, 2001 with the minors - with Tyrone. I had been away and missed games with the club and this was my first real year of being heavily involved."

It could be a fairytale year. He captains Omagh into the Tyrone county final this Sunday against Errigal Ciaran in Healy Park.

This is his third county final (he lost the 2005 decider to Carrickmore, avenging that defeat in 2014 against the same opposition) which, in the ultra-competitive Tyrone Club Championship, is some going.

Consider that the last seven Tyrone Championships have gone to seven different clubs. They retain their straight knock-out format and every single ball is a minor war in itself. It leads to dramatic moments, such as Omagh's Ronan O'Neill sneaking through and around Carrickmore's giant goalkeeper Plunkett McCallan in the final moments of the 2014 final to net a goal and gain their first Championship since 1988.

That was McMahon's second final. In 2005 when they reached the decider they were under the management of Christopher 'Tiffy' Quinn. Quinn is part of Errigal's backroom team, their management headed up by Pascal Canavan.

If that all feels like a lot of water under the bridge, then it's also a lot of football played in the meantime.

"I'm 34 now and I need the extra recovery," McMahon explains.

"Say, for example, playing county; you have to be training at 100 miles an hour five days a week, between the gym and the pitch. You always have to be up to that level to keep yourself right. With the club, you are still at that level to an extent, but not as regularly."

This summer he has played more games than he cares to remember. In the Championship victories over Ardboe, Greencastle and Trillick his form was immense, hitting the sweet spot between talent, experience and enjoyment, with his brain his main asset as he creeps through his 30s.

"The way we are playing at the minute, and the system we are playing, it tends towards my style of play, being able to get on the ball and link that play," is all he will say.

"The way teams are playing against each other now, they are all setting up quite defensively and you need that ability to create an opportunity with a pass. That's what brings down teams."

There are few better.

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