Bohemians in right mindset for PAOK battle thanks to McMahon’s alchemy

Eight-time All-Ireland champion has been helping club’s players steady their psyche

 Dublin footballer and Bohs first-team performance coach Philly McMahon has been helping the side psychologically prepare for matches. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin footballer and Bohs first-team performance coach Philly McMahon has been helping the side psychologically prepare for matches. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Europa Conference League - third qualifying round, first leg  Bohemians v PAOK (Greece)
Aviva Stadium, 7.45pm

As kick-off approaches Bohemians will show a mini documentary starring Keith Buckley’s mammy on the stadium’s big screen. It is a tale as old as time; a mother looking down from the flats in Markievicz House as her young son kicks ball in the lower tunnel.

From that same perch Catherine Buckley can see the Aviva Stadium, where tonight her boy will tangle with former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa.

“That’s my son Keith now,” she will tell the 8,000-strong crowd. “He’s the captain of Bohemians.”

Bohs face a superior Greek outfit, operating under Razvan Lucescu’s proven philosophy, that offers them little hope of progress to the play-offs of this newly invented third tier of European competition.

The Phibsborough club are about to enter a different dimension. And yet, PAOK might be ill-equipped to contain the energy created by Mrs Buckley’s echoing words, not to mention the mind-bending work being done behind the scenes by Philly McMahon.

“Philly works on the other side of the game in terms of the mindset and approach, that’s as far as I am going to elaborate on that,” said Bohs manager Keith Long, in a cryptic correction to the assumption that the eight-time All-Ireland football champion was hired to physically condition players, having previously done so at Shamrock Rovers.

Holy Grail

The Dublin footballer remains on the inside of the most secretive success story since the GAA was formed in 1884. Those glory days are nearing a natural conclusion, what with the 33-year-old being an unused sub in Sunday’s Leinster final victory over Kildare – perhaps he is being held for one last cut off Aidan O’Shea – but McMahon’s influence at Bohs appears to be breaking new ground in terms of how Irish soccer players steady their psyche.

“A lot of people involved in team sports are worried about their job, but he actually cares deeply about people,” Buckley explained. “He wants to know what makes them tick and what doesn’t make them tick.

“It is a performance mindset. He is very detailed. The stuff he shows us is really, really good. I don’t think many other clubs would be doing it, so it has had huge impact on us.”

A probe for specific examples returns empty handed.

“For me,” Buckley continued, “he just talks about life and stuff. Without knowing it he is picking into your thought process, your belief systems, and he tries to help you that way without getting you to think too deeply about it.

“It is just the little things, and he is very good at that, you know?”

We do not know and that’s what makes the union so fascinating. Sports psychologists and their ilk, particularly those who have breached the outer layer of GAA panels and professional rugby squads, have long seen the chance to mould a soccer club’s collective mentality as the Holy Grail in a “profession” littered with charlatans.

Such opportunity has, for the most part, been rejected. Until now. Until someone as respected as McMahon came along, with his background endeavouring to rehabilitate prisoners in Mountjoy to the way The Choice, his award-winning memoir from 2017, helped so many.

“It would be new to most people and probably most clubs as well, the stuff he is doing,” said Buckley. “Lads have never seen it, I know I have never seen the stuff before. You can ask any of the lads here, what he has done has helped everyone and not just the team that plays every week but the team behind that again that is pushing the players and keeping them on their toes.”

Buckley will need every ounce of McMahon’s alchemy to curb Kagawa’s influence this evening.

Intensity

“Whoever plays it is just another name on the shirt, isn’t it? You play against the most technical players on the other team when you are the sitting midfielder.

“Look, you want to play against these type of players. Again, he is over the other side so let’s see if he can keep up the intensity against meself.”

He is joking. A painter and decorator by trade, Buckley was equally delighted to lift a 20-year ban on his mam attending matches.

“She could be a bit of a loose cannon. That must be where I get it from! She was having a go at the other team, so she hasn’t been to a game since I was seven or eight.”

Mother Buckley, and the candle she burns during every game, was a welcome presence at the recent 3-nil wins over Stjarnan and Dudelange.

“I think she probably expects the Aviva all the time. If she goes to Dalymount she’d probably look around and say, what’s going on here?”

Europa Conference League – play-off draw  
(Winners progress to group stage) 
August 19th and 26th 
Dundalk/Vitesse (Netherlands) v KF Laçi (Albania)/ Anderlecht (Belgium) 
Shamrock Rovers/ Teuta (Albania) v Omonoia (Cyprus)/Flora Tallinn (Estonia) 
Bohemians/ PAOK (Greece) v Hibernian (Scotland)/HNK Rijeka (Croatia)

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