BY THE time Tony McMahon was just a couple of months into his twenties, he had been part of a UEFA Cup final squad, lifted the FA Youth Cup as captain and also watched from just behind the dugout as the club he joined as a schoolboy won their first major trophy.
Such a notable roster of Cup achievements with Middlesbrough suggested plenty of finals lay ahead for someone who had been capped by England at various youth levels.
The reality, however, has been rather different with that first appearance in a senior final proving strangely elusive. Until now.
“This is my time,” said defender McMahon to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s long overdue trip to Wembley.
“I have wanted my own taste of a final for so long and it is finally here. I loved being at the Millennium Stadium (when Boro lifted the 2005 League Cup) or part of the squad for the UEFA Cup the following year.
“Being captain of the team that won the Youth Cup was great, too. But this is different and I want to enjoy it.
“Let’s make everyone smile and be able to celebrate what would be an unbelievable achievement for this football club.”
McMahon has twice come close to achieving his dream of playing in a final.
Four years ago, he was part of the Sheffield United side that was firmly on course to reach the League One play-offs when he suffered a serious Achilles injury that kept him out for five months.
It meant he was a frustrated spectator as the Blades bowed out at the semi-final stage against Yeovil Town.
Last year took him even closer, McMahon being part of the Bradford side beaten by Millwall over two legs as Wembley eluded him once again.
“Millwall was horrible, absolutely horrible,” he says, his mind turning back to a second leg at The Den that ended with City having been beaten 4-2 on aggregate.
“London is a long trip back and, believe me, you don’t want to make that journey having lost in the play-offs.
“I don’t want that feeling again, it spoiled my summer. But I use that as my motivation, especially as I want a promotion on my CV.
“I haven’t had one yet and, hopefully, I am one game away from doing that.”
McMahon spent eight years at Middlesbrough and made 135 appearances. Victory today at Wembley would mean a return to the Riverside next season with the Bantams.
“I was up there last Sunday for a retirement ‘do’ for my old Academy manager, Dave Parnaby,” added the right-back.
“I saw a few old faces, including the chairman (Steve Gibson). It was nice to catch up with him, and Aggers (Steve Agnew), the manager now. I have been to another couple of games this season and everyone is always really welcoming.
“It was the same when I went back to the Riverside with Blackpool a few years ago and got an unbelievable reception. That will stick with me for ever. Having said that, I would love to go back next year and take three points off them with Bradford.
“Boro are a good club. Deep down, I am a Manchester United fan and have been since I was a boy, but being at Cardiff when Boro won the League Cup was great. I was right behind the dugouts.
“It was also the season when I was captain of the team that won the Youth Cup. We played Villa over two legs so it was a great season for the club.
“The following year, I was in the squad for the UEFA Cup final. Travelling over (to Eindhoven) was huge, even though Boro lost (4-0 to Sevilla).
“It was great to be involved in those finals, but this is the first I have been fully involved with and I can’t wait.
“All my family will be there, cheering me on. The crowd will be huge and let’s just hope we can get the right result – be that after 90 minutes, 120 minutes or even penalties.
“We are one game away from achieving our dream. All I have on my CV is a couple of relegations and that is the other side of football to what I experienced as a youngster with Boro.
“I now want to balance them out with a couple of promotions; this can be the first one. I am buzzing for it and can’t stop smiling.”