Dec. 13, 2017, 5:02 a.m.
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Writing any book, there are times when you’re in charge of the story and there are times when the story takes charge of you.
Philly McMahon never set out to write The Choice as part of the healing process after his brother John’s death. But the more he got into it, the more he got out of it, whether he wanted to or not. Along the way, he and Niall Kelly produced the 2017 winner of the Eir Sports Book of the Year award.
“One of the management team said it to me – ‘This will help you grieve,’ McMahon said on Tuesday. “But I thought I had grieved by working. When he first passed, he passed in London so we had to bring him home as a family and it cost much more than what a normal funeral would cost and we hadn’t got a plot so we had to pay for that. So I just dug the head down into the work.
“It was crazy, I have probably mentioned before I was going from the Ballymun gym that I had to the Tallaght one to the Drimnagh one. That was my way then of grieving but I didn’t realise what grieving was until I sat down and spoke to the family for the book and all these emotions came out, you know? I think that’s the way people should grieve, not hide it in work like I did in the beginning.”
John was a heroin addict and the thrust of the book is a brother’s story of watching a loved one drift away, pulled by a power greater than love. McMahon has a platform because of what he’s done on a football pitch and you can only admire his desire to use it for good, especially in an area that polite Ireland would be far more comfortable ignoring.
“You can make it as complicated as you want but the fact is that in this country, drug abuse is going to get worse,” he says. “We have really amazing people in all of these charities and these organisations that are doing good work, but they’re all fighting for funding. And then you have good people who are starting to change the policies, like [Minister of State] Catherine Byrne and the people in the injection clinics, they are going to be vital, you take the drugs off the street and that stigma away, and you target those addicts.
“If you’re caught for personal use my feeling would be that you wouldn’t be incarcerated from that, decriminalise the human being and not the drug. So that money could go towards the public programmes and the money that we would normally spend incarcerating someone would be going in the right direction.”
McMahon has been tapped up by the occasional politico looking for him to sell his message through politics but says he would only do it if he thought it was a more efficient way of getting his message across than his Half-Time Talk charity. As of now, that’s not the case so he’ll keep doing what he’s doing.
“I’m only a really small fish in the pond. I really am. I say that and I do understand that my profile and the success that Dublin has, has helped me get this message out there a little bit more. People have been talking about this so much more than me, but just maybe the profile is different and there are so many good people doing good things.
“But it needs to be a collective. From the hierarchy down, this country hasn’t even tipped on the amount of drugs that have been experimented on here. We had the problem with grass and weed – at the minute, it’s the social drug for kids.
“But when you can go down the street as a kid and buy an ecstasy tablet that’s cheaper than a Mars bar, sure there’s your environment dictating your choices all over again. It’s similar to what John had. When John was growing up, an ecstasy tablet would have been €10, now it’s cheaper than a Mars bar.”
The Choice by Philly McMahon and Niall Kelly (Gill Books, €14.99) is out now

https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/gaelic-games/philly-mcmahon-s-the-choice-wins-sports-book-of-the-year-1.3325154