Wild card McMahon eyes up the big game

Versatile Tyrone player hopes to be back for Sunday’s final against familiar rivals

Tyrone’s Joe McMahon in action against Donegal in their Division One clash last month. Photograph: Inpho

Tyrone’s Joe McMahon in action against Donegal in their Division One clash last month. Photograph: Inpho


Joe McMahon recalls he was in the Cusack Stand the last time Tyrone were in a league final. That was 10 years ago, just before his intercounty career began and the versatile Omagh footballer is hopeful he can celebrate the anniversary by taking part in this year’s Allianz climax, against Dublin next Sunday.

Rested as a precaution for the semi-final win over Kildare the weekend before last, McMahon is hopeful of a return to training this week and of being in contention for place in Mickey Harte’s team.

Dublin matches have been milestones for him. In his second season, the counties met in a memorable, replayed All-Ireland quarter-final. At half-time in the drawn match with Dublin leading by five, Harte carried out one of the most inspired interval reshuffles, ending up with team configuration that rescued the match, decisively won the replay and went on to take the county’s second All-Ireland.

McMahon, having spent his initial career in defence, was switched to bolster a sagging centrefield, which he did successfully. In what was to become a pattern, he was redeployed as full back for the semi-final against Armagh and did very well on Ronan Clarke and going on to win his first Celtic cross.

Three years later in another quarter-final with Dublin, he started this time at wing forward and performed the commission with panache on a drenching day, driving home one of the goals that set up a sizeable victory. By that year’s final he was corner back, tasked with minding Tommy Walsh, one of Kerry’s twin towers.

Dublin avenged these reverses in subsequent quarter-finals in 2010 but McMahon’s versatility has continued to be a major asset for the team, as Harte’s rebuilding programme has taken Tyrone back into Division One after a two-year relegation hiatus.

“I’ve been playing this year in the half-back line and would have done so for my club,” he said at yesterday’s launch of the Specsavers’ sponsorship of the Hawk-Eye score detection system, which has been installed in Croke Park.

Knit the play
“I enjoy playing there but probably more so in the half-forward line where you can knit the play together from the back up to the forward line.

“That’s important to the team and more of a free role. But again, the competition for places is very strong at the minute and Mickey may have a different idea come the rest of the year.”

As a kid he played half back and centrefield but at senior level, between the goalposts is the only line of the team in which he has yet to play but he says he has long ago learned to adapt to differing demands even during the same match.

“Moving about – you don’t really bother about it; you just get on with the game. You know the tactics and what role has to be played and you just play it. From looking at video evidence that’s shown before the game and individual players you’re focusing on you’re keeping an eye on that in case you’re asked to fit in.”

He’s amused by a question that suggests Tyrone might be thinking of holding the cards close to their chest on Sunday given the seismic Ulster championship first round against Donegal is just four weeks away.

“I don’t think Mickey thinks like that. It was said before that we know Donegal well enough and they know us well enough. I think when it comes between us there is only a fine line and on Sunday Mickey won’t hold back. There is a cup there to be won and you want to do your best to go out and win it.”