"It's not a popularity contest," says Philly McMahon – a slightly more polite way of saying he still doesn't "give a s**t" about what other players think about him, as long as Dublin keep winning All-Irelands". And he's certainly consistent about that.
Almost one year on from his equally defiant interview in the aftermath of Dublin's All-Ireland final win over Kerry, McMahon is once again teasingly aloof from all apparent criticism of his style of play; the gentle irony is that his style is what wins him so many plaudits in the first place, even if that's not always reflected in the award shows.
McMahon was unquestionably Dublin's best defender last summer, starting all seven championship games and getting better with each one. He kept Mayo's Aidan O'Shea to a single point in both the drawn and replayed All-Ireland semi-final, before keeping Colm Cooper completely scoreless in the final.
Towards the end of that game, however, his hand appeared to come in contact with the eye area of Kerry's Kieran Donaghy: he was later given a one-match ban, which McMahon didn't contest, having already denied any deliberate contact and preferring to let the matter rest.
At the time, McMahon also admitted: “If I get all these accusations against me and I win an All-Ireland, I don’t give a s**t, to be honest”. And he still holds true to that philosophy. He was nominated for 2015 footballer of the year (along with
and winner Jack McCaffrey), and was also reportedly RTÉ’s initial choice for man-of-the-match in the final only to be overlooked due to his altercation with Donaghy.
None of which bothers McMahon at all – even if the footballer of the year is decided by the intercounty playing body. “Sure, I won’t be the most popular county footballer throughout my career,” he says. “I accept that, once I can do my bit for the team. I like to think I’m a nice person off the pitch. On the pitch, I’m there to do what I can to help my team win.
“And you hear it all the time, at the All Star awards, ‘oh I don’t really care, I wanted to win for the team’. And I didn’t care if I didn’t win it (footballer of the year), I honestly can say that. There are times where I’ve seen footballers that should have won All Stars and they didn’t. Sometimes there’s people have won All Stars that shouldn’t have. So I don’t care about it. I honestly don’t.”
McMahon is busy beyond the world of football. He runs his own gym and health food delivery business (employing eight), while also working on projects aimed at improving the social status of the Ballymun area of Dublin where he lives.
He’s in the process of establishing a charity called Half Time Talk to work with vulnerable youths in the area, while also contributing to other projects aimed at breaking some stigmas surrounding drug and other addictions (his brother John, a drug user, died of a heart attack in 2012).
Lot of pressure
“Setting up the charity is taking up a lot of my time but I like keeping occupied,” he says. “I don’t want to have time on my hands so that I can over-think things. I’m also lucky that I have self-motivated people in my businesses, and they help me an awful lot. They understand when I’m in the business end in football, and take a lot of pressure off me. Everybody has their different ways but, for me, I understand that your football career at intercounty level is not that long. You need to be looking beyond that.”
McMahon may well take up Aidan O'Shea again in Sunday's final, depending on where Mayo deploy their big forward, but win or lose, whether Dublin can put up back-to-back All-Irelands or not, he's not letting such judgments define his career. "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'," he says.
“I started when we had nowhere near a chance of winning an All-Ireland. Anyone that speaks about being ‘the next great Dublin team’ is probably outside of our circle anyway. Because we don’t think about that.
“I respect the players that have played before me, and that will come after me. That’s the legacy I want to leave, I’ve done my bit for Dublin GAA. Not that I was there to be the great player or on the great team.”