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GAA Football

Justin McMahon: Defeat by Dublin will make Tyrone stronger

Aidan O'Shea (Mayo) tussles with Tyrone players Justin McMahon and Ronan McNamee during the 2015 Allianz Football League, Division 1, Round 2 clash at Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar, Co. Mayo
Kevin Kelly

JUSTIN McMahon has no regrets after announcing this week that he is retiring from County football.

The Omagh clubman was an unused substitute in the Ulster champions recent All-Ireland semi-final defeat at the hands of Dublin and he revealed that he contacted Mickey Harte on Sunday evening to tell him of his decision.

His brother Joe retired from Tyrone duty back in May and after team captain Sean Cavanagh made the same decision in the aftermath of the Dublin defeat.

Justin’s announcement means that there are now no players who started the 2008 All-Ireland final win over Kerry still playing.

“It was a tough decision to have to make and you would love to be able to go on forever,” admits Justin.

“It was a great honour to play for Tyrone and you just lived for those big games. I felt that there was an opportunity to get back to another final this year and that drove me on but I have to be realistic now.

“I informed Mickey of my decision on Sunday evening and now I will concentrate fully on the club. I just love playing football and we have the club championship coming up and I’m looking forward to that.”

Justin first shot to prominence as a member of the 2003 Ulster minor winning side and three years later he won Provincial honours at U21 level as well.

In 2007 he won the first of his five Ulster senior medals but no doubt his most cherished memory came twelve months later when helping Tyrone lift the Sam Maguire for the third time although he is very modest when asked about the part that he played alongside Joe in taming the “Twin Towers” of Kieran Donaghy and Tommy Walsh.

“Looking back I count myself very fortunate to have come along after Tyrone won All-Irelands in 2003 and 2005,” said Justin.

“We lost out to Down after a replay in Newry and we knew that we had been involved in a fantastic game and that we still had the quality to have a major say in the championship.

“Obviously at that time you weren’t thinking about winning the All-Ireland and there were times when we could have lost in the qualifiers.

“The win over Dublin though was the turning point for us.

“There was a lot of hype in the build up to the final but to be honest that went over my head and I didn’t know that Joe would be in the full back line beside me until a few days before the game.

“Mickey had a game plan and we expected Kerry to go long at every opportunity that they got and that’s what they did.

“We were lucky as when we broke the ball nine times out of ten it went our way, on other days that may not have been the case.

“Kerry perhaps didn’t get the same quality of ball in that day as they had been doing throughout the championship and credit for that has to go to our men out the field who put them under pressure.

“We were also fortunate to have so many quality players in defence around us to mop up the breaking ball and that certainly made life easier for us.”

Justin’s display in that final helped win him a National All-Star award but 12 months later he says came one of the toughest defeats in his career against Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.

“After 2008 you naturally think that there will be more big days like that but looking back the seasons go in very quickly at County level,'' he added.

“We were well prepared for the Cork game but things just didn’t go our way that day. That’s the way things go, it’s the small things that make the difference but credit to Cork they played very well.”

Tyrone retained their Ulster title the following year but then the side started to break up and the emergence of Donegal and Monaghan meant that Tyrone had to wait until last season to taste success again.

“Jim McGuinness really took Donegal to another level during his time at the helm,” states Justin.

“They were extremely fit, had quality players and brought a great physicality to the game. Even though we lost a few times to them in the championship in Ballybofey I really enjoyed those high profile, physical games.”

What now does Justin see for the future of Tyrone football with manager Harte being given another three year term earlier this week?

“I really do believe that Tyrone will challenge for the major titles over the next few years,” he says.

“The effort and commitment that the players have put into Tyrone in recent years has been unbelievable.

“A lot of people expected us to put it up to the Dubs but things just didn’t work out on the day but I expect the players and Mickey to learn from that defeat.

“The experience will make them stronger next year and the seasons to come as they have plenty to offer and I look forward to cheering them on in my new role of a supporter.”

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