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17th May 2023

“I never thought I’d be a pundit… it filled a massive void in my life” – Philly McMahon

Patrick McCarry

Philly McMahon

“I dipped my toes in it. It helped me deal with retirement.”

While he may have a new, three-part show airing on RTÉ, many GAA fans are getting acquainted with seeing Philly McMahon on our TV screens as a pundit with the BBC.

The former Dublin star is part of the BBC panel, along with Mickey Harte, Oisín McConville and Michael Murphy, for Ulster Championship games, and will be back on the scene as the SFC heats up over the summer.

“I never thought I’d be a pundit, to be honest,” the eight-time All-Ireland winner tells us. “I was always comfortable doing media, though. Jim Gavin liked me doing media as it’d often be journalists asking about me, and my story, rather than the football.

“I dipped my toes into [the punditry] and found it helped me with retirement. I was very conscious of not sharing dressing room secrets. They’re not mine to share – they belong to the group.

“It filled a massive void in my life. As a player, you were putting in 40 hours a week into your training, matches and preparations. Working for the BBC is different to what I expected. It is very relaxed and because it has been focused on the Ulster Championship, all the focus is on one match so there is more quality of analysis and punditry.”

McMahon believes having more broadcasters covering the game leads to a better product for viewers, and fans. He is also hoping for changes to the inter-county calendar after this year’s championship wraps.

Philly McMahonPhilly McMahon and Rory O’Connor, pictured during Gaelic in the Joy. (Credit: RTÉ)

‘I’ve seen how sport can impact on people’s lives’

McMahon has teamed up with comedian and content creator Rory O’Connor for a new RTÉ show, Gaelic in the Joy. The idea behind the documentary shows the pair taking a group of prisoners from Mountjoy Prison and seeking to turn them into a competitive football team.

For McMahon, who lost a brother, John, to a heroin overdose in 2012, and O’Connor, someone who battled a gripping gambling addiction for years, this project was more than personal.

“The idea was the brainchild of Rory and the show’s producer – making a real-life version of the movie, The Longest Yard, which was later re-made as Mean Machine. I was already working with a programme with prisoners in Mountjoy, at the time, so it was a no-brainer for me. It was incredible that we were able to pull it all together. The show is a real first of its’ kind.”

Philly McMahon says there was ‘lots of work done behind the scenes in order for it to happen’, with some of the main stake-holders being the GAA, Mountjoy Prison and RTÉ.

“The idea was to pick prisoners that fit in with a certain criteria – so people that were in for non-violent or ‘lesser’ crimes. We dealt with prisoners that were in the progression unit, and enhanced part of the prison. Then it was up to Damien, the producer, and the staff to listen to the stories and select certain people that felt would suit.”

Given that his brother, John Caffrey, died of a drug overdose just over a decade ago, McMahon says he dealt with a few questions when his involvement with Gaelic in the Joy cropped up.

“Some people were asking me, ‘Why are you going in there, helping people that could have impacted your brother’s [drug] addiction?’ What I would say is this – if I can impact anyone, in any shape or form, or get someone back on another direction in life, I’d love to play a small part of that.

“I’ve seen how sport can impact of people’s lives. I’ve also experienced that just listening to these prisoners can make a big difference. Society needs to look at why these people are going to jail, and asking themselves what can be done to prevent it. Listening to their stories is a big start.”

Gaelic in the Joy airs on Wednesday, May 17, at 9:35 pm on RTÉ One and will be available to view on the RTÉ Player

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