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Red Hand Joe McMahon relishes a return to Croke Park

By Declan Bogue

It seems a long time since late January and a clear evening in the Athletic Grounds when Joe McMahon appeared to be shuffling off the inter-county scene.

Playing at centre-back in the McKenna Cup final against Cavan, McMahon was off the pace of the game, given that he was not long back from Omagh's run to the Ulster club final.

Substituted at half-time, McMahon left the panel soon after, with a post-graduate degree in Coleraine, along with two baby girls at home meaning he could not devote his time to the commitment required to play the inter-county game.

However, a discussion with Tyrone manager Mickey Harte led to an arrangement that he would undergo a training programme under the guidance of Red Hands Strength and Conditioning expert Peter Donnelly, leaving him in good enough condition to be a candidate for man of the match in their qualifier win over Meath in his first start back.

"It was the discussion I had with Mickey that if I was in good enough shape to come back, then I could fight for my place in the squad and eventually get into the team," the affable St Enda's man revealed.

"I am happy with the condition I am in and it is down to the work that Peter Donnelly with our sessions 'off-campus', away from the team beforehand, and then with the team."

"I suppose looking earlier in the season, the study course was my first and foremost priority. That was the focus and I never looked at a stage beyond that because I was so busy.

"But it's nice to get back and, hopefully, it won't be the last opportunity this year that I get to play in Croke Park!"

But just as soon as one McMahon is fit, another breaks down.

His brother Justin has been troubled with a calf injury, but Joe feels he will be available for selection when they face Sligo in this Saturday's round four qualifier in Croke Park.

"Coming into the business end of the year you want to be playing Croke Park and it's nice to get in there for Round four," adds McMahon, who will celebrate his 32nd birthday next week.

Tyrone's opponents were beaten by 26 points in the Connacht final against Mayo, but McMahon believes they will show more of the form that saw them shock Roscommon in the provincial semi-final.

"We can't underestimate them," he states.

"A lot of people in Tyrone assume that Tyrone are just going to beat them, especially after the result they had against Mayo in the Connacht final.

"In the final itself, Sligo had opportunities and they definitely looked dangerous inside.

"We won't be taking them for granted, for sure."

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