GAA Football

Former Tyrone minor star Shane McMahon sets out on All-Ireland run for charity

Shane McMahon on his way through county Derry this week. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Andy Watters

Standfirst

Former Tyrone and Dromore footballer Shane McMahon's playing career was cut short by the life-threatening head injuries he sustained on a night out in 2010. 15 years on from winning an All-Ireland title with the Red Hand minors, Shane has set off on an epic, self-supported charity run which will cover all 32 counties of Ireland. Andy Watters writes…

‘Any team that's going to win a Tyrone championship needs a Shane McMahon'

Peter Canavan after Dromore had won the county title in 2009

Monday, September 27, 2004

SHANE McMahon wakes up with an All-Ireland winners' medal beside his bed.

The Tyrone minors had beaten mighty Kerry by two points at Croke Park the day before. Shane – in his first year as a county minor - had sprinted onto the field at the final whistle after Raymie Mulgrew, Ronan McCrory and Colm Cavanagh had pushed the Red Hands youngsters over the line and cheered Marc Cunningham up the famous steps to collect the silverware.

“It's any young fella's dream to play for Tyrone,” he says, 15 years on.

“I didn't realise it then but you're growing as a person, playing against teams all over Ireland. There's a lot of respect shown to you and there were a lot of great fellas from all over Tyrone.

“It was a joy to be there, it was a joy to go to training and to get away to games. There were so many good, genuine fellas there and so many class footballers, it was very special.

“When you're there with great players and good people it makes it all worthwhile. It was a great bunch of people to be involved with.”

And more success followed even though some said there was a curse on the Dromore, St Dympna's club. According to folklore, a priest had said something to someone, or was it that someone had said something to a priest? Anyway, there was supposed to be a curse on the club but McMahon and his mates broke it once and for all when they brought home Dromore's first ever county championship after a 74-year wait.

“I grew up in a small community and I played a significant part in the set-up,” says McMahon.

“I played for Dromore since I was 9 years old, so you're playing throughout your whole life, with boys you grew up with.

“There were five or six of us who broke onto the senior team and we added to the good players and the experience that was already there – the likes of Ricey (Ryan McMenamin), Fabian O'Neill, Eoin McCusker and Colly McCullough and boys like that.

“It led us to that first championship in 2007.”

A vital cog in the St Dympna's machine, Shane was a formidable and physical competitor on the field and full of running. After that breakthrough county title, Dromore stepped up to the Ulster stage and beat Down champions Mayobridge after a replay. Next came a battle with Armagh's Crossmaglen, the reigning All-Ireland club champions, in Clones.

“I remember us going up the street on the bus,” recalls McMahon.

“We went up past the Hibernian in Clones and there were Dromore supporters on the right hand side walking to the game. It even hits me now thinking about it. We were going to play the mighty Crossmaglen in Ulster and we ran them close! You understand how much it means to everybody.”

Clonoe ended Dromore's reign after extra-time the following year but St Dympna's reclaimed the title in 2009 after a titanic struggle against Ardboe.

“There were a lot of very special days and when you don't have that any more you just get lost after a while,” he reflects.

“That's kind of the stage where I'm at now; it's one of the reasons why I'm on this epic journey.”

May 2010, The Royal Victoria Hospital

HE wakes after three weeks. Eyes open, lids flickering as he adjusts to the light. Recognising nothing, he comes to his senses and eventually it dawns on him that he's in a hospital bed. Bleeping, flashing machines surround him and panic grips him as he tries to get up, ripping the wires and tubes that had helped to keep him alive out of his body. How did he get there?

“We had played Galbally in a league game that day and me and a friend of mine went out that night,” he recalls.

“We were in a nightclub and there was a bit of an altercation.”

He was dragged out by doorstaff and later found on the street outside with serious head injuries and still has no memory of what happened.

“I don't remember how it happened or what was said,” he says.

“I was brought to Enniskillen Hospital that night and they sent me home because they thought I was drunk! All the damage was internal; I had no external cuts or anything.

“My mum and aunty were with me in Enniskillen, I stayed in my aunty's house and I have a vague memory of waking up on the Monday morning and my aunty coming in to tell me she was going to work. I must have rung my ex-girlfriend because she came and picked me up and I remember going down my aunty's stairs and the sweat was just dripping off me.

“I went from side to side out to her car, I remember opening the door and the next thing was three weeks' later when I woke up in intensive care.

“I remember just pulling all the needles out of myself – I didn't know what had happened or where I was.”

Shane laughs nervously – it's as if he can't believe he's talking about himself - as he recalls those events nine years ago.

“I feel emotional talking about it, sometimes it just hits you,” he said

“It was bad, I had a brain haemorrhage, bleeding on the brain and they monitored me for two days.

“The swelling wasn't going down and they had to operate to release the pressure on my brain they had to take part of my skull out and place it in my stomach, my abdomen, so the brain could breathe. About five or six weeks' later they took it out and put it back in again because the skull wasn't damaged.

“I was in an induced coma for 12 days and then placed in intensive care and from I woke up it was a very slow process to get back out.

“There were a lot of things I had to work on because I lost my speech and my strength and there's a small weakness on my right because the injury was on my left side.

“But if somebody asked me now was there anything wrong with me I'd say: ‘Not really' because, if there is, it's not worth talking about.

“I consider myself lucky and I probably don't appreciate it enough. I've spoken to one of the consultants who treated me and he told me he's seen people die from the injuries I had. The brain is a very fragile thing.”

His speech returned but it took time for him to get back on his feet. First he walked, then he ran, then he returned to the gym and, eventually, he got back out on the pitch and won the reserve championship with Dromore in 2011.

But there was a harsh truth to face: Something had been lost and, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't recapture the missing spark.

“I was having problems with my balance, I was falling a lot,” he says.

“Things just never felt the same.

“I tried hard to get back to be the same player I was but there was always a doubt with my head. I got a few knocks here and there and they really knocked my confidence.

“Nothing serious, but any wee hit at all… There must be screws in there now to attach the skull again and any wee nick to the head at all, you could feel it sending a wee vibration through you.

“My heart just wasn't in playing football any more and that's the reason I never tried to push on with it.”

A plasterer by trade, Shane enrolled in a two-year foundation degree at South West College in Omagh in 2011 and his outlook on life began to change.

He became interested in personal development and by 2013 says his “mind started to open”. In 2014 he packed a rucksack and began travelling the world. He has spent time in New Zealand, Thailand and Australia but, as time passed, day ran into unstructured day and every mile he covered seemed to be taking him further away from the man he was.

“I loved the time travelling but there's only so much you can do before it gets a bit boring,” he said.

“I started to get very lost and the more I travelled the more I started to lose myself.

“It got to the stage where I lost my identity; I just didn't know who I was. I was going through the same day every day and I didn't know where I was going. I knew I needed something, I needed a personal challenge.”

The plan for his round Ireland run first entered his head three years ago and he has been building towards it since.

“This wasn't just a random thought – ‘Oh right, I'm gonna run round Ireland' – there were a lot of things I'd done that led to me to this,” he said.

“My first marathon was in Connemara in April 2017 and that was the start of my journey to this.”

He ran five marathons in 2017. Last year he ran a 69-mile race in June, a 24-hour race in July and a 214-mile race across Scotland in August.

“It was all getting me ready for this,” he says.

His “epic journey”- a 30 mile-a-day, six-week, 1200-odd mile run through every county in Ireland – started on Monday when he walked out through his front door and began the first leg from Dromore across the border to Lifford.

On Tuesday he ran towards Letterkenny and by Thursday he was in Magherafelt.

“I'm trying to clock in at least a marathon distance every day,” he says.

“It's a pretty long endurance event so I'm going to try to listen to my body and if I can target around 30-mile a day I'll be happy with that.

“If I could do it in six weeks I would be happy, I'll sleep in a tent every night and I'm pushing a buggy to carry my stuff – my clothes and tent and toiletries and water…

“I'll go down the east coast and when I get around the Dublin/Navan area I'll be zig-zagging across the country to get in a lot of the inner southern counties done down towards Cork.

“Then it's pretty much a clean run from Cork up through Tralee, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Castlebar, Sligo, Enniskillen…

“I came across this fella who did a self-supported journey across America from the furthest point west to the further point west and that's where I got the idea to do something self-supported. I got the equipment gathered up and I thought: ‘I'm just going to go for it here'.”

His friends and family will turn out to cheer him on and he hopes to meet old friends and make a few new ones along the way.

“The more people I get to meet the better,” he says.

“If anybody wanted to run with me or come along and grab a bit of food or a coffee I'd definitely be up for it.

He has had his own struggles and wants to highlight the growing number of suicides in the Dromore area and so he is running to raise funds for the Aware NI and Aware Ireland mental health charities.

“We all know how big mental health is and I thought this was too big of a challenge not to raise money for charity as well,” he said.

“The amount of suicides we're having… There were a few up where I live lately, young people, so it was a no-brainer to try and do something.

“Personal goals have kept me right and running helps a lot. Like most people, I have my confidence issues and insecurities and I know the pressure on people, especially young ones, now.

“I think people who are struggling need to hear other peoples' stories; I think that's what we need as a society. I just don't think there's enough people talking to make sure these things aren't such a stigma.”

Saturday, July 6, 2019

SHANE McMahon wakes up in a tent by the side of the road. He's a little stiff and sore but he makes his breakfast, packs his gear and is soon on his way again.

It's just him against the road so if you see him, take a moment to wish him well…

If you would like to make a donation to Shane's run, the link to his JustGiving page is: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/shane-mcmahon4 or contact him on 07463750302.

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