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TV View: Brutal, searing honesty from Philly McMahon

The Dublin footballer opened his heart on the Late Late Show ahead of book release

Philly McMahon high fives young fan Joe Ecock as he signed copies of The Choice

Paddy Christie confirmed what might have been suspected, that Philly McMahon is no saint. Paddy wouldn’t claim to be one either, but by the sounds of it he has the patience of a dozen of them.

Just an average day from his catalogue of stories from life as Ballymun Kickhams coach: The team is heading to Meath on a bus “that was like something out of The Flintstones”. Davey Byrne starts getting sick at the back, so Paddy’s running around looking for a plastic bag. “A great start to the day.” They get there, play their match, and head for home. He’s at the back again “trying to control a fight between a few fellas”, while Philly goes up front and pours a bottle of something over the driver’s head. Paddy tries to calm the victim, telling him that it was only water. But the driver notes, with some alarm, that his hands are stuck to the steering wheel.

McMahon grinned, a little sheepishly, by now The Late Late Show audience understanding why he said he owed Christie so much. He could have thrown him under the bus, quite literally, instead he helped him to where he is today, the owner of five All-Ireland winning medals.

Christie missed out on All-Ireland success in his Dublin days, but, said McMahon, “he has his hand on probably 20 medals because of the players he pushed through”, Byrne, Dean Rock, James McCarthy and John Small among the others. “The smart thing about Paddy was that he understood the energy of the kids of Ballymun, and he could take that and put it in to sport.”

That, then, is why McMahon credits Christie with helping him make the right choices in his life, The Choice being the title of his autobiography, written with journalist Niall Kelly.

As he has done before, McMahon spoke about his late brother John making different choices, his heroin addiction ultimately costing him his life. He started when he was 14 or 15, “in a lift shaft in Ballymun”. When he was offered the drug he asked what it was, he was told “H”. He thought it was hash and that it would be harmless enough. It was heroin, and it controlled him until the day he died.

McMahon talked about the shame of having an addict in the family, how he grew up “constantly trying to hide my dirty secret”. Now, he wishes he had that time over. “I felt like it was something people had over me,” he said, recalling the time one particular player he was marking made jibes about his brother being a “junkie” who had “overdosed”. Instead of decking the fella, McMahon allowed the abuse “empower” him. “I played a very good game that day. We won.”

The Choice McMahon made, to avoid that fate, was an elementary when he saw “the pain and suffering John had from the addiction, that pushed me more towards sport”. For that to work, though, he needed encouragement, which is where people like Paddy Christie came in. And they didn’t just support him in his sporting career, they pushed him to become the first member of his family to earn a degree.

It’s a remarkable story, one McMahon tells powerfully, his collection of medals a testament to his resolve to stick to the choice he made, and never look back.

Would he be adding to his medal collection? He hopes to, but at 30 he’s not sure how many years are left in the tank.

If he’d dropped by Sky Sports on Sunday morning, he might have concluded that he has a decade left in him. There was Roger Federer talking to Marcus Buckland after seeing off the challenge of Rafa Nadal in straight sets in the final of the Shanghai Masters. “That’s the first time you’ve beaten Rafa five times in a row,” said Marcus, how did he do it?

“By avoiding the entire clay court season,” he laughed, but he then went on to detail the changes he has made to his game, notably using a bigger racquet head size. “It allows me come through the backhand much easier, especially on the return, I’m not slicing as much against him. And I’ve been working on my serve.” Most of all? “My head’s screwed on in a better way.”

This is 36-year-old Roger Federer, holder of a record 19 Grand Slam titles, still fine-tuning a game that to the rest of us looks kind of perfect.

“That’s the genius of Roger, he’s always looking to get better,” said Greg Rusedski back in the studio. Spare a thought for Rafa. And all the rest.