TWO-TIME ALL-Ireland winner Joe McMahon thought he was going to be dropped from the Tyrone team for the 2008 All-Ireland final.
Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE
Stephen O’Neill had just returned to the fold from retirement and McMahon suspected that he might be dropping to the bench to allow O’Neill come in and bolster the Tyrone attack.
The Omagh St-Enda’s club man suspected something was off when the then team captain Brian Dooher made the unusual move of waiting for McMahon to finish togging in after training.
As McMahon began moving towards the exit door, Dooher ushered him into a different dressing room where manager Mickey Harte was waiting. It was a sight which left McMahon feeling anxious about what was about to unfold.
But the fear soon subsided when McMahon was informed that he would be switching from his normal position in attack to the full-back line alongside his brother Justin.
“At that stage I thought, ‘I’m a goner here, they could be sacrificing me maybe if Stevie O’Neill is coming into the forward line, maybe I’m going to be dropped’.
And then they asked me then to go back and mark Tommy Walsh and it was relief almost that I was playing, in a selfish way and as soon as I digested that I was thinking, ‘Jesus, this is a new role for me here, full-back in an All-Ireland final, you’re going to be lining out beside your brother here and you’ve a job to do.’
“I didn’t really have much time to think about it. Training sessions initially were sort of set up for long ball coming in, breaking ball and then from that you were thinking, ‘This is your job, this is what you’re doing.’
Joe McMahon with former Kerry forward Tommy Walsh in the 2008 All-Ireland SFC final.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
“It was a collective thing and that was my job, to sit back and mark Tommy Walsh but then other fellas in around that they knew who the men were to launch the ball in and where to sit to pick up the pieces and fortunately it worked out well in that game.”
Tyrone have reached the All-Ireland final this year for the first time since that famous 2008 decider against Kerry, which yielded a third All-Ireland title for the county since 2003.
The football landscape however, has changed in the intervening years.
The Tyrone team of that era were considered to be the equal of any side that was contesting for All-Ireland honours.
But following the evolution of the Dublin footballers, the perception this time around is that Jim Gavin’s side will collect a fourth consecutive All-Ireland title.
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Eoghan O’Gara celebrates scoring a goal in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone.
Source: James Crombie
McMahon recalls how his Tyrone teammates had complete faith in their system during the ’08 era and believes that Dublin’s win over Tyrone in the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final provided them with a platform to progress and become a dominant side over the subsequent years.
“Any time you come up against Dublin they are seen as one of the top teams. It was a time Dublin had cruised through Leinster, they were the dominant team, but we didn’t have any fear about coming up against them or Kerry.
“It wasn’t arrogance, just total faith in what we were doing and the players we had could go out and fulfill our potential. We did that.
“In 2011 Dublin really took hold of the All-Ireland championship. They beat us in ’11 – I remember watching that game recently – they were on song that day, Diarmuid Connolly hit 0-7.
But 2010, the one off the post fell into O’Gara’s hands, back of the net, that was a defining moment in where they are at the moment because they got over the hoodoo over Tyrone and got revenge for 2008.”
McMahon, who retired from inter-county football last year, expects this All-Ireland final to be a ‘tactical battle’ where his side will have to ask more questions of the Dublin defence than they did in their previous clash with Monaghan.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
“There’s opportunity for the inside line to take their man on a bit more. Draw fouls or the likes of Peter Harte and Tiernan McCann coming off the shoulder to exploit those spaces.
“I think all the pressure’s on Dublin and nobody, as you know, is giving Tyrone a chance. Tyrone will relish that, without a doubt.
“I would love to be in that position as a player, that nobody’s giving you a chance and they have been there before because you can just go out and play and if you get beat, so what, everybody knew that and if you don’t and you go out and win, there’s a big surprise element to it but I definitely think they can give it a go.
I imagine there will be a lot of analysis done by Mickey and the team – they will be looking to find weaknesses in the Dublin set-up, there are a few questions that need to be asked of this Dublin team.”
Joe McMahon was speaking at the launch of this year’s Londis 7s, the All-Ireland Senior Football Sevens, which takes place on 1 September at Kilmacud Crokes GAA Club.
– First published 07.45, 24 August
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