With seven All Ireland medals and two All Stars in his back pocket, Philly McMahon fashioned an unbreakable defender of himself by balancing a tenacious doggedness with a god-given talent to kick a football.
Now, as he enters the twilight years of his inter-county playing days, it is his ability for balance that is fortifying a new marriage and a new off-field career, while attempting a to break back into Dublin’s starting fullback line.
When lockdown hit for the Dublin corner-back, it posed questions about all aspects of his life.
Having sold four gyms to concentrate his efforts on one 8,000ft2 facility in Finglas, how would his new business fare without any customers? After marrying his beloved Sarah Lacey in December, how would a new marriage hold up in the Covid-19 lockdown? And having lost his decade-long hold of the blue number two shirt last year, how could he reclaim his position without even training with the Dubs?
Life, like football, is all about balance, McMahon says and an opportunity can be found in any situation. Having to work for free during the pandemic, providing fitness classes to his customers for example, has left McMahon feeling the fittest he has in some years, and in a position to potentially leave a mark on this year’s All Ireland championship.
"It’s one of those things that I’ve viewed as an opportunity," he told Independent.ie.
“You’re always chasing your tail depending what your off season is like. With the career I have, I had to do a lot of online training, working for free to keep my business alive. That was tough but the opportunity from it was I was doing a lot of fitness.
"Ultimately it will be down to the management team and how I perform when I get back in whether I’ll be starting again. Physically you can always work harder and certainly I do think that’s an area I could have gotten better at in the past few years.
"I’ve always used the excuse of my dad passing and his illness and those two years of neglecting the physical side of the game and I was probably chasing my tail last year to get back to that level.
"This year that excuse is not there. I should be fitter, I should be stronger, I should be faster so I’m hoping that should be the case.
"Marrying that then with my footballing ability, once I do the job the manager asks me, then who knows."
McMahon had previously been critical about the potential return of GAA behind closed doors, but as he enters his 13th season with a Dublin team vying for their sixth consecutive All Ireland title - his eighth - he said he will take any opportunity he can to play for his county, "before it’s taken away".
"If you’re at the top level, there’s a little bit of fear in the back of your mind that if you get out of shape someone is going to take your place or one of your opponents is going to be better than you, so you’d be silly to drop all the tools, but it depends where you are in your career," he said.
"If you're a bit later in your career and you’re close to it being taken away from you, there’s no room for complacency. I definitely think that way.
"The problem with GAA is people have to retire before you want to but you have to be realistic. Dennis Bastick said it well, ‘time waits for nobody’.
"If it’s in front of 75,000 people or nobody. It’s the buzz of the crowd and the fans that’s amazing. For me it’s what makes the game. But I just want to play football. I’ve worked really hard during lockdown and I just want to see how that translates on the pitch."
McMahon will reopen his gym on July 20, after his membership base "naturally dropped off a lot" despite still having to pay rent and overheads during lockdown.
The Ballymun Kickhams star said that keeping his business afloat was "a massive struggle".
Dublin businesses like interior design company Avenue One, Crumlin Windows and Shiels Feature Walls and Plastering offered their services in exchange for marketing and gym memberships, however, and he has been able to continue to develop his business as he had envisaged before the coronavirus hit.
"I’ve always wanted my gym to look a certain way and to be at a certain standard but that vision was always going to be very costly, so for the last three years, I’ve been putting every bit of money we’ve made back into it.
"But when we went into lockdown we just didn’t have money. We didn’t get a rent freeze and our membership base naturally dropped off - people are giving free classes online so you can’t compete with that.
"It was a massive shock because we’re in our third year and year four or five, in our vision, it should be complete and slowly but surely we wouldn’t have to invest much and the company would be very profitable.
"But that completely changed and you’re going from doing the gym up and looking at the projections to thinking ‘is this going to be the end of it’ and it really could have been.
"We would have had a huge drop off when we went from in the gym to online and then when we went outdoor we could only train four at a time but now that number is 15 and slowly the numbers are getting back up so hopefully when we reopen in July we’ll be good again."
McMahon could be excused for feeling tested by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even his personal life has been given the acid test. After marrying wife Sarah in December, they were presented with a big challenge to their relationship, a lockdown together just months into their marriage.
"Sarah works for Hammerson who are the owner of shopping centres like Dundrum and the Ilac and Swords. She has a really good job and she’s been working from home a lot and so have I," he said.
"We’ve both been quite busy but now I’m doing the outdoor workouts so I don’t see her all that much.
"It’s like anything though, no one’s relationship is perfect and if you spend too much time together, you’ll do each other’s head in and too little time together it will cause conflict, so it’s just about trying to get the happy medium and that’s the way it’s been for us during lockdown.
"It’s that balance thing again."