GAA Football

Philly McMahon positive about future of International Rules

Ireland's Philly McMahon challenges Australia's Eddie Betts during last Saturday's International Rules match at Croke Park  
Paul Keane

DUBLIN defender Philly McMahon believes the International Rules series is here to stay and has implored pundits and commentators to stop undermining it by questioning its future.

The Allstar and Player of the Year nominee made his Ireland debut in last weekend's dramatic four-point win over Australia at Croke Park. It was the second consecutive year that both Ireland and Australia have named strong match-day panels, a development reflected in the quality of the exchanges.

Last Saturday's crowd of just less than 40,000 was almost exactly the same as the 2014 figure in Perth and, while that's down considerably on the turnout of a decade ago, it's healthy nonetheless.

Talks between GAA and AFL officials regarding the series took place last Friday and it seems a strong possibility that it will be returned to a two-test footing, with one of those games played in the US. McMahon agreed things are looking good for the hybrid code and called on those who keep talking about it as a struggling concept to desist.

"I think we need to stop talking about the future of the series - it's there, it's happening," said McMahon.

"There was a good crowd this year and, as you can see, down in Australia there was a decent crowd at the game played there. So it's starting to build back up. I suppose previous tests were a bit more physical. Now, they're getting more skilful and, with the Aussies getting more skilful, the physical side of their game has changed to the technical side of it. But that's a good spectacle and the physicality is still there, the aggression is still there. It's definitely not crossing the line like it used to."

Ironically, it was the aggression shown by individual Irish players towards each other during this year's Championship that threatened to affect the international group's preparations. Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly infamously struck out at Mayo's Lee Keegan during their drawn All-Ireland semi-final tie, leading to a red card that was rescinded. In that same game, McMahon was accused of head butting Aidan O'Shea.

But the no-nonsense 28-year old corner-back said that, for him at least, it was no problem putting those things to one side.

"Look, I'm the type of player that, if I commit to a team, I commit to the jersey that I put on," said McMahon.

"So if it's for Ballymun, if it's for Dublin, if it's for Leinster, or if it's for Ireland, you put your grievance behind you, you battle with each other. And especially when you're playing a physical sport like International Rules, you really need to be able to rely on each other. You need to have that support of the players around you.

"I think we've bonded a lot in the last 12 weeks and that showed in the result that we eventually got."

McMahon admitted he did wonder at first if the rest of the Irish players would be able to get over their differences and embrace players from rival counties.

"That was one thing I was thinking about coming into the whole thing and it being my first test too with no real experience of it, 'Jesus, will these lads actually battle? Will we come together?" said McMahon.

"But Joe Kernan and the back room team did a great job of putting us together and getting us fighting for each other."

McMahon is a specialist corner-back in Gaelic football and saw the large gaps opening up in the Australian's full-back line as the visitors maintained a high defensive line, something Ireland attackers Bernard Brogan, Conor McManus and Aidan O'Shea fully exploited.

"We didn't know they were going to play like that but as soon as we saw the lads in space in behind, we went for it," said McMahon.

"The joy we got from Bernard inside and Conor McManus and Aidan as well was huge. So we banged the ball in long and got joy out of that. I think then they started pushing the 'keeper out a little bit. But yeah, that tactic worked for us and that's how we got our scores on the board."

The win capped a huge season for McMahon, who played a central role in Dublin's third All-Ireland title success in five seasons. There's some down time on the horizon now, with a team holiday to Thailand planned.

"We're going on the holiday next week, so to win with Ireland was the icing on the cake for me," said McMahon.

"It's been a long 10 or 11 months. We would have started back earlier than normal with Dublin this season because of the beating that we got from Donegal last year. We were chomping at the bit to get back and to turn over what happened to us in 2014."

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