‘People come to the gym to look after their mental health as much as their physical health’

Dublin star Philly McMahon thinks more should have been done to fill the gap left by halting sport in lockdown
Ali Bracken

For Dublin star Philly McMahon, keeping his gym clientele active during lockdown was of higher priority for their mental well-being than physical fitness.

On Wednesday, the Dublin footballer finally reopened BeDo7 Fitness in Finglas to the public, after being firmly shut for most of the past year-and-a-half.

The seven-time All-Ireland winner was temporarily forced to lay off all of his staff, including himself, for much of the pandemic. But the gym is now back in business.

“We don’t sell memberships, we sell emotions. This is a community-based gym. People come here to look after their mental health as much as their physical health.

"We are buzzing to be back open and it’s amazing to see the smiles on our clients’ faces and the energy about the place. I think we took that for granted. We haven’t had it easy, but at least we can reopen,” he told the Sunday Independent.

“A lot of people lost their businesses and even worse, a lot of people have died. It’s important for me to remember there are a lot people worse off. But getting back on our feet is going to take some time.”

McMahon, who lined out for Dublin as they took on Donegal in the league semi-finals at Breffni Park in Cavan last night, said that Government and Nphet missed an opportunity during the pandemic to capitalise and promote exercise as a mechanism to emotionally deal with the toll of Covid-19.

“When the lockdowns were at their most severe, there was very little to do but exercise. That window is gone. From a general perspective, the Government and Nphet should have done things better. It’s very easy to say that, that they could have done a better job. But I think there should have been a group working alongside Nphet promoting physical exercise and providing social supports, to help people deal with the emotional toll of dealing with Covid.”

McMahon, like gyms and other personal trainers, ran Zoom classes online for members to keep things ticking over.

“For a lot of people, it was about people needing help emotionally more than for fitness. I had a client who was going through chemo, someone with an eating disorder and someone who had just lost their business. They were looking for exercise to help them deal with emotional issues as well as fitness. I hope it did.”

The footballer said Covid-19 exposed social depravation around the capital and said less affluent areas had higher infection rates due to a lack of education and State support.

“I walked up Grafton Street during the height of it. It was equivalent to The Hunger Games. It was just homeless people and addicts. It was so strange to see, on Grafton Street. Some communities, like Ballymun where I’m from, saw higher numbers of cases. That was down to a lack of education and support.”

Most of all, McMahon said he felt for young people during the pandemic, who often had nothing to do. “A lot of young people were into sports and that just stopped. That teenager Josh Dunne who died was a talented footballer. He should have been training that night. Kids were exposed to a more trauma during lockdown, we saw that with the rates of domestic violence.”

The 33-year-old hopes that the worst of Covid is behind us and those most impacted can rebuild their lives and businesses.

“Nothing is granted in life, nothing is guaranteed. We could end up back in lockdown again. I hope the worst that could happen is a return to outdoor workouts. If we could have done that all during lockdown, we would have been OK.”

Ahead of Dublin’s semi-final clash against Donegal last night, the footballer was “buzzing” to play in front of a couple of hundred fans for the first time since before the pandemic. “It will be such a rush, to play in front of fans again. I can’t wait. Even the opposition fans. I really relish putting on the jersey. Representing my county, my family, my community.”

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