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Philly is a tower of Blue steel

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BORN COMPETITOR: Philly McMahon in action for Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

BORN COMPETITOR: Philly McMahon in action for Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

BORN COMPETITOR: Philly McMahon in action for Dublin. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Michael Jordan, if such a brutal taskmaster was ever to reluctantly doff his Nike Swoosh-emblazoned cap to another athlete's journey, might just bow to Philly McMahon's backstory.

Both are athletes who draw their energy from the dark side of the force.

McMahon - like MJ - has always been unapologetic about any carbon emissions belched into the atmosphere by the wildfire of aspiration that inhabits his belly.

"Winning has a price," deadpans His Airness in The Last Dance, "When people see this (they may say), 'Well, he wasn't really a nice guy, he may have been a tyrant'. Well that's you, because you never won anything."

The words might easily have spilled from the core of one of Ireland's more compelling and unashamedly ambitious sporting figures.

Ask Diarmuid Connolly or Eoin Murchan: Being Dublin team-mates offered no firewall from Philly's furies - the kind that sometimes stretch beyond what is permitted by the natural order - when the Croke Park brothers became club rivals, in the latter case within days of Murchan scoring the goal that made the Five-in-a-Row a reality.

Bending

Bending and breaking rules, crossing the line, unapologetically Machiavellian, indifferent to the court of public opinion. Whatever it takes.

That they might have considered burning his effigy in Kerry or Mayo over recent summers would not have cost McMahon sleep.

The accusations of eye-gouging Kieran Donaghy or headbutting Aidan O'Shea (even if he strongly denied the latter) he would have worn like battle-ribbons.

He shone a light on his hardboiled philosophy after that 2015 controversy involving Donaghy, one where the defender exhibited typical chutzpah in outscoring his direct opponent, the peerless, blueblood forward, Colm Cooper.

"We're grown men, we play a physical sport. At the end of the day, the result is what ends it. We shake hands and get on with it."

A motto that could be taken from the anti-hero's handbook. A world view that might have been authored by MJ at the height of his pitiless and majestic Jordan Supremacy.

Philly's seven All-Ireland medals (only five footballers in GAA history have more), his rising above the quicksand that lurked all around Ballymun's seven towers - sucking under many, including his own brother, John - to become a successful businessman, a totem for his home place, all these things were made possible by a fierce, Jordan-esque will.

McMahon has, by necessity, lived and learned by the laws of the jungle, thrived and become whole while assimilating the hard truths of Darwinian theory.

We were reminded of this in another compelling weekend interview with McMahon.

It revolved around his work in Mountjoy Prison, exercise classes with inmates that evolved into leadership courses, what they call the "Unfucccked Movement."

McMahon explained to the journalist, Denis Walsh: "The three cs stand for change, culture and community. We want to change the culture in the individual which impacts the culture of the prison and when they get released into society they can help change the culture in their communities by using themselves as an example.

"To show others, young kids, that this is not the way to go."

McMahon's formative years, particularly the harrowing loss of John to heroin, inform his outlook, fuel his drive, shape his personality.

On his first visit to The Joy, five of "his mates" were among the audience. It is a jolting reminder that Philly is a graduate, not of some cloistered Ivy League school; rather he holds a PhD from the university of adversity.

Curiosity

Align the perspective with an eternal curiosity, a restlessness to explore the outer boundaries of what might be possible in his life and the kind of stubbornness that allows him to remain undaunted in the face of unpromising odds and you begin to join the dots and see the authentic McMahon emerge.

How many people can say that the path they have chosen to take not only changes lives, but saves them?

The narrow obsession among some with the debit side of McMahon's ledger illuminates a mere fraction of the whole.

Here is a kid who grew up in a left-behind area of urban deprivation, who lost his brother to drugs, friends to prison, but who kept looking to the stars. He gave up his job to repeat his Leaving Cert as a 20-year-old, he went from running training classes in an attic to launching a health-food company, owning multiple gyms and setting up a charity to train and empower young, unemployed adults.

Philly has become an exemplar, a beacon of hope, a leader in life. Bono sang about non-existent choices facing many young Ballymun men who were running to stand still: "I see seven towers/But I only see one way out."

McMahon - seven-time All-Ireland winner, two-time Allstar, his autobiography a Book of the Year recipient, an ever-striving, shining success story in his professional life - has signposted another way.

"So if people are kind of looking and going, 'Why would you help prisoners, they're scumbags,' those prisoners could potentially save your kid from that pathway. The days of saying, 'Kids, stop taking drugs.' That hasn't worked. We've been doing that for generations. We need to show them, like I saw my brother's path. I saw his addiction. I saw his pain and suffering that's why I didn't do it."

Many words have been deployed to describe McMahon, some of them deeply unflattering.

The deeper you drill into his world, see how he strives to steer so many from the darkness that consumed his brother, the more it becomes apparent that there is one four-letter label which is not utilized often enough.

It could be tattooed to the skin of a creature, who, like Jordan, never hesitated in investing all of himself in the elemental fight for all he believes in.

The word? Hero.