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Alan Mahon: 'I worshipped Denis Irwin and Roy Keane as a kid and here I am on the same pitch'

Injury held up Alan Mahon's Premier career but Rialto boy has no regrets

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Alan Mahon (left) in action for Blackburn Rovers against Leeds United’s Oliver Dacourt in 2001

Alan Mahon (left) in action for Blackburn Rovers against Leeds United’s Oliver Dacourt in 2001

Alan Mahon (left) in action for Blackburn Rovers against Leeds United’s Oliver Dacourt in 2001

Surprisingly, it was GAA which was the first love, where tapping over points and scoring goals for Liffey Gaels, maybe even the Dubs one day, was the dream.

For a teenage Alan Mahon, soccer soon took control and shaped his destiny, but the main ambition was pretty basic.

"I wanted to be able to ring my dad on a Saturday and say, you have to watch Match of the Day tonight, dad, I'm on it," Mahon says now.

By the time Mahon stepped up to that stage, with his Premier League debut for Blackburn Rovers at the start of the 2001/02 season, he'd already ticked some pretty impressive boxes: first team football at 17 and a Wembley Cup final appearance, for Tranmere Rovers; a start in the group stages of the Champions League, for Sporting Lisbon against Figo's Real Madrid; and international caps.

But getting to the Premier League was another feather in the cap of a player who now, aged 42 and working as coach with Manchester City Women, looks back with more fondness than regret, a record of two goals from 24 appearances in the English Premier League across four seasons.

"I enjoyed the journey I was on, I'd hoped it would be better, but I still have a lot of good memories and I'll take that with me," Mahon recalls.

"My career could have been better but could also have been a hell of a lot worse."

Mahon already had over 100 games under his belt, with Tranmere, before his agent Kevin Moran managed to secure a mouth-watering move to Sporting Lisbon in the summer of 2000.

The move held much promised but was short-lived as within months he was back in England, on loan to Blackburn. He helped them win promotion to the Premier League, the loan was made permanent.

And at the start of the 2001/02 season, what was then called the Premiership came his way. He still recalls the game, a 2-2 draw at home to champions Manchester United.

"Denis Irwin and Roy Keane were huge heroes of mine, I'd grown up watching them play for Ireland and there was on the same pitch as them, biting my lip," Mahon says.

"At one stage in the game Roy went on the attack, the ball had gone to Brad Friedel, he sent it up to me, I went tearing up the wing, about to get my shot in and out of nowhere Roy comes in and takes the ball off me.

"I just thought, 'how did he just do that, he was miles away from me a second ago'.

"I knew then what an immense player was when I saw him in the flesh as an opponent, seeing that drive and passion I'd seen from a distance before.

"Denis was an unbelievable player as well and it was a big thing for me, a young Irishman, to speak to them.

Game mode

"I'd seen them at the World Cup as a kid, now I was on the pitch with them in the Premier League.

"I got a 'hello' from Denis before the game but not Roy, he was in game mode."

That game showed Mahon the highs and lows of life at that level. First the high.

"I actually got an assist that day in the 2-2 draw, I put in a ball from a free and it took a deflection off David Beckham for an own goal for us," he says.

"I also got a bollocking from Graeme Souness that day. Beckham was taking a free, I should have been standing over it but I walked away and Beckham chipped Brad Friedel to score, I just switched off. Souness, who was a great manager for me, lashed me out of it."

A draw with the champions in what was a local derby, of sorts, was positive for Mahon and Blackburn but in their next game he was onto another level, as Mahon and Damien Duff both scored in a 2-1 win over Spurs.

"Two lads from Dublin scoring in a Premier League win, that was something else," he recalls.

"All week leading up to the Spurs game, Souness was telling me, get your shot in, if you are in the box don't pass it, just pull the trigger.

"And I did, I closed my eyes and had a go, it could have gone into the far corner but it went into the net, and Duffer scored a classic goal that day. That was a brilliant day.

"I played in the middle, Duffer was out wide. He had the pace and the skills, I was never quick, but Damien was fantastic to play with."

Blackburn finished a creditable 10th that season and qualified for Europe, but Premier League life started to get difficult for Mahon.

He made 13 league appearances that season, just two the following season and only three Premier outings in 2003/04.

"I was plagued with niggly injuries, I never had a serious injury but had loads of small ones that would keep you out for two or three weeks and that kills your momentum," he recalls. If you didn't perform you didn't play but I can't have any issues."

Loan spells, at Cardiff and Ipswich, followed and then a move to Wigan, who were in the Championship when he joined but were promoted, offering him a second bite at the Premier League cherry.

But Mahon would play there just six times before a move, to Burnley, though there was the highlight of another goal, and win, at Villa Park, in October 2005.

His final appearances for Wigan, in the middle of the 2005/06 season, were in the cup competitions but the Premier League door closed just before Christmas in 2005, a 4-0 defeat to the opposition on his Premier League debut, Manchester United.

"They were 2-0 up at half time and beat us 4-0, Rooney scored two," he says.

"I tried to chip Schmeichel from distance but we didn't score. I didn't know it then but I was done with the Premier League."

Retire

Mahon would play on for another five seasons, with Burnley, Blackpool and Tranmere, where he opted to retire at the age of 33, hit hard by the death of his father.

"A lot of my career was based on ringing my dad and my mum," he reflects.

"When he passed, I lost a piece of myself with the playing side and I felt it was right to call it a day.

"I had offers but not being able to ring the big fellah on a Saturday night to say how I did in the game, that hit me.

"He was my hero, my idol. He put me on the right track. He stopped me from going to the big clubs who were after me at 15 or 16 and made sure I went to Tranmere.

"Even though it was the least amount of money on offer - I was on £36 a week in my first year - it was the best opportunity for my career and that decision was down to my dad. He was the one who instilled the honesty in me to always do things right. So it was right to quit."

After he stopped playing, Mahon stepped away from the game for four years, working in the property industry, before a call came to work with the Manchester City women's side where he is assistant manager and head of recruitment, proud of Irish recruits Megan Campbell and Tyler Toland.

International football was not kind to Mahon, who was capped just twice, in friendly games in 2000.

"That Irish midfield was so strong then. I make no excuses, it was no one else's fault and I can't blame anyone," he says.

"I'd have liked more caps but I believe you get what you are given and the fact that I played a couple of times is one of the proudest moments of my career, especially to have my mam and dad there in the crowd.

"My time in the Prem was short lived, not as long as I'd have liked.

"But the fact that a boy from Rialto can say he scored in the Premier League, played in a Wembley Cup final, to have my dad in the stand for an international game, that's what matters."

Herald