Search icon


28th Jun 2023

How Paddy Christie lured Philly McMahon back to Gaelic football after trials with Nottingham Forest

Niall McIntyre

Brought to you by William Hill

He may have gone onto win eight All-Irelands with Dublin but it could have been very different for Philly McMahon.

Soccer was the Ballymun man’s first love. He grew up in a house-full of Everton supporters and, as a youngster, his first port-of-call was to play soccer with Ballymun town and soon after, Ballymun United.

A tight corner back on the Gaelic football pitch, Philly had a different role as a soccer player where he played as a midfielder and, having impressed at schoolboy level in Ireland, he earned a trial at Nottingham Forest at the age of fourteen.

The 35-year-old appeared on JOE’s House of Football Show this week where he recalled those early days as a soccer player.

“Soccer was my first sport,” says McMahon.

“I started with Ballymun town and Ballymun United then went to Nottingham Forest at 14 and played for Belvedere as well.

“My da would bring me down to Fairview, if I played well we’d get the bus back if I played poorly we’d walk back to Ballymun! That was the tough love from my dad.

“I was that typical young kid, when I played well in GAA, I was loving it, when I played well in soccer, I was loving it.

“Paddy Christie was the key for me,” says McMahon, as regards to how he ended up as a GAA player.

“Before I went to Forest with another Ballymun guy Mark Hartigan, we had a party and Paddy came up to me and said ‘I hope you do well, I hope you make it and if you don’t, GAA will always be here for you.”

It was in his book, the Choice, where McMahon discussed the details of that trial with Forest – and how he would have loved another one.

“I played against the American Cubs, who were basically an American All-Star team, and the following day against a club from Mexico.

“I thought I played well, but it’s difficult. You’ve got a team made up of triallists who think that this is their dream on the line, and everyone is trying to do their own thing to show off and hopefully catch the coaches’ eye.

“It makes it nearly impossible to play together as a team and if you’re playing centre-midfield like I was, trying to just knit everything together, it’s very difficult to stand out from the crowd.”

In typical fashion, McMahon recalled ‘milling’ through an opposition player, which earned him a smile from one of his coaches, but he wasn’t called back.

“It’s quite a harsh system, years of fighting to get noticed and then, when you do get your shot, you’ve got a couple of training sessions and two games to make the impression of a lifetime.

“I would have loved to get called back over for a second trial a year or two later. Going over at 14 was far too young, and I’ve always felt that if I had got the call and gone over at 16 or 17 instead, I would have been a much more developed, much smarter footballer.”

But soccer’s loss was the GAA’s gain. The work Paddy Christie was putting into the youngster in Ballymun helped turn McMahon’s head when he got back.

“So when I came back, my mates in school were coming in with the best of gear that Paddy was looking after them with so I was asking questions around how well I was being looked after in the soccer world, and that veered me towards Gaelic football.”

McMahon still works with many soccer clubs and players, however, in his role as a performance coach in recent years.

“Soccer is the game I’ve worked most in, I work with athletes in MMA, rugby and GAA, but soccer is the one I’ve worked with most.”

18+ |

WATCH: Liverpool BOTTLED the title race 🤬 | Who will win the Premier League?