Sunday 4 December 2016

Jack McCaffrey: 'It wasn't pretty growing up watching Dublin getting hammerings off Tyrone and Kerry

Dublin star tells Michael Verney he has lived the dream in epic year

Michael Verney

Published 19/11/2015 | 02:30

A delighted Jack McCaffrey with the Sam Maguire Cup following Dublin’s All-Ireland SFC final victory over Kerry
A delighted Jack McCaffrey with the Sam Maguire Cup following Dublin’s All-Ireland SFC final victory over Kerry

Having grown up during lean times in the capital, Jack McCaffrey is now part of a special generation of Dublin footballers.

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The Dubs struggled to maintain their hierarchical place during McCaffrey's teens but, even then, he felt something exceptional was brewing.

An electrifying debut season, which saw him win a first All-Ireland medal, as well as the Young Footballer of the Year award, was amazingly surpassed.

In 2015, the 22-year-old graduated to take the senior gong while adding a first All Star and a second Sam Maguire in a remarkable season. While privileged, it will not affect him.

"I'm really enjoying the ride. It wasn't pretty during those barren years when I was growing up and watching Dublin play - getting hammerings from Tyrone and Kerry in Croke Park," he said.

"But at the same time, through the development squads, minor panels and U-21 squads, we always had a tradition at the top table. We lost a minor final narrowly to Tipp and we won a couple of U-21 titles so winning isn't something that's particularly new to us. But every now and then I have to take a step back.

Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey
Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey

"I get to pull on a Dublin jersey and play in Croke Park, which was my dream growing up. You kind of have to pinch yourself every now and then, but at the same time you can't overthink it because then you'll freeze up and not perform."

Speaking of freezing up, their 2014 semi-final loss to Donegal serves as a stark reminder. The reigning champions don't plan on taking their eyes off the prize next year. Opposition beware.

Speaking at the 2015 Opel GAA-GPA All-Stars jersey launch which will help raise funds for the Childhood Cancer Foundation, McCaffrey said: "As a team, we were disappointed. Myself, personally, I was disappointed as well. A bit of it was probably complacency.

"I probably got a little bit . . . you know, took the eye off the ball. In the early rounds of the league and even the early championship games, it was always, 'Ah, there's plenty of time, I'll get in at some point'.

"That set my season back a bit and, when I did get in, our season abruptly ended so there was no time to push on from there. This year I just set out my stall to play every game for Dublin."

Donegal's three-goal blitz also highlighted defensive frailties with Jim Gavin placing more emphasis on tackling and shoring up at the back this year without sacrificing their attacking principles.

Purists love their expansive style and so does the attacking wing-back.

"It was about going back to what had made us successful in 2013, which was going out and enjoying playing football," he said. "Once we went out on to Croke Park with a smile on our face every time, things seemed to go our way."

2015 also saw McCaffrey emulate his father Noel, AllStar centre-back in 1988, and with his sister Sarah part of the ladies' football team, there's great pride in maintaining the family's GAA heritage.

It also offers the Clontarf defender a unique opportunity for redemption. "We have dad's award at home and I actually managed to snap it in half when I was two. I knocked it off a shelf or something.

"The two of them are sitting beside each other now. I might make it up for a birthday or something for him. It's lovely though, great to have that tie to generations gone by."

The UCD medicine student, who is in camp with Joe Kernan's International Rules squad for this weekend's tie with Australia, has his doubts about the trialling of the 'mark' in next year's Sigerson Cup.

"Maybe from kick-outs it would be a good idea, but one of the reasons I wouldn't be a big fan of Australian Rules is that it is very stop-start. One of the great things about Gaelic football is how free-flowing it is," he noted.

"I wouldn't like to see the whole game stopping for 15 seconds every time a kick-pass is caught. We have to be very careful not to change too much of what has made Gaelic football the powerhouse that it is."

Despite all the accolades, McCaffrey doesn't envisage being a marked man and believes teams would be foolish to target him.

"I don't think they can afford to with the other players we have. If they want to focus on me then they are more than welcome to because the lads will do more damage than I ever could."

Irish Independent

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