Saturday 1 October 2016

'I thought Kerry would win and I'll probably end up thinking Mayo will win' - McCaffrey on being a Dublin fan

Michael Verney

Published 17/09/2016 | 02:30

Jack McCaffrey at yesterday’s launch of GOAL’s Jersey Day. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Jack McCaffrey at yesterday’s launch of GOAL’s Jersey Day. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

There was a brief moment as Jack McCaffrey was walking into Croke Park for Dublin's semi-final showdown with Kerry when he pondered whether he would be "a bit sickened" if Dublin delivered the goods and moved one step closer to Sam Maguire.

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But as soon as the ball was thrown in "that all went out the window" as the Dublin fan inside McCaffrey came to the surface. It's a position he will find himself in once again for tomorrow's decider but there are no regrets about not being part of it.

The current Footballer of the Year rocked the GAA when deciding to leave the Dublin set-up and travel to Africa during the summer with GOAL as part of his medicine studies, and rejoining the panel upon his return last month was never an option.

Representing the Dubs is an all duck or no dinner commitment and dipping in and out "wouldn't be fair or possible".

Instead he would take his place in the stands, although admitting to being a "very bad supporter" as his confidence dissipates with games on the horizon. And his main gripe with not being involved is sitting on the other side of the fence with no influence on proceedings on the pitch.

Difficult

"It's funny, it's nearly easier when you're out there and you can make a difference. You can run around and you're playing football, which you know how to do," the 22-year-old says.

"Whereas when you're in the stand, you're one of 82,000 voices shouting instructions onto the pitch. You're living every play. It was an incredible game (against Kerry) and it was incredibly difficult to watch but it's a good way to pass 70 minutes.

"I was walking in thinking 'Kerry have been preparing for this for x number of weeks' and I thought Kerry would win. I'll probably end up thinking Mayo will win before the end of this week."

While Jim Gavin's squad were preparing for their All-Ireland defence, McCaffrey was visiting Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, "a mental but exhausting experience", spending the guts of a month of his travels alone with football and Dubs out of sight, and out of mind.

It's clear the All-Star defender is his own man, with his outgoing personality regularly seeking fresh challenges and stimulation. But even he got a bit of a culture shock thousands of miles from home as the football championship was beginning to heat up.

"I travelled around for three or four weeks before I met up with my class-mates. So that was something that was completely new to me. I've been on a train with no Wi-Fi for three days with two Chinese people who don't know what Gaelic football is," he says with a smile.

"Coming from a family that's dominated by football, I had to find new topics of conversation. So it was great. And then the hospital experience will stand to me. It was good to be able to feel like we were doing a bit there and helping out a bit.

"I was busy with GOAL and then floating around on my own, football was pretty far from my thoughts. The Donegal-Dublin game was the first. My father texted me during the week and I got on the GAAGO and sat down and watched it.

"After that then I was back for the Kerry game. I pretty much switched off from football, I was getting results and that but it wasn't something that was big over there."

Quickly jetting away to a college exam after the interview formalities were completed at the launch of GOAL's 2016 Jersey Day - which takes place on Friday, October 14 - it's obvious that there are other things on his mind than football.

But given his ability he still can't get away from it, and he wouldn't want to either, and after keeping himself in better shape than he had expected while away, he played a club game with Clontarf the day after his return and is eagerly looking forward to the winter months.

With so much to give and many Dublin followers pinning their hopes on the next generation of stars like Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Fenton and McCaffrey, he'd gladly answer the call to make a swift return in 2017 if it's forthcoming.

"I'm loving the club football now and we have Sigerson kicking off soon enough, we've the league and that, and if Dublin were to ask me back in I'd absolutely love to give it another lash," he reveals.

"Re-energise is probably a fair way to describe it, it would be great to go again and watching the lads and enjoying - hopefully - the win in the final, it would really make you want to get back yourself. So I'm looking forward to it."

McCaffrey has touched base with his close friends on the panel but he'll keep a wide berth in the next 24 hours with D-Day looming. And knowing Mayo well after last year's semi-final duel, he's expecting another classic.

"Mayo are a fantastic team and they've been so close, so often recently. I've heard they haven't had that one game this year. Every team gets that one great game in a season and Mayo haven't really had that yet. So they're going to come out all guns blazing. If they all click, it's going to be a hell of a game."

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