McCarthy: 'You can't hide from pressure'
When Dublin's "startled earwigs" were demolished by Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final eight years ago, James McCarthy had no inkling that his career in sky blue would take a radically upward curve as he watched on from the sideline.
It would take immense work from Pat Gilroy "to strip everything back" as he brought "a bit of toughness" through a combination of early-morning training sessions and a radically altered approach to the league.
"We won away in Kerry and away in Tyrone and it's mad the way it works, you just start thinking in your mind why can't we beat them in championship? That's how I think we started and it all kind of fell together," McCarthy said at the launch of the 2017 collection of Cúl Heroes cards.
McCarthy acknowledges that wearing the Dublin jersey was "a bit too glitz and glamoury" for a few years but Gilroy encouraged his squad to get involved in charity work in an effort to bring them back down to earth.
"There was too much distractions and stuff like that and too much showboating and stuff like that and that was kind of … we wanted to be known for our football, not for other stuff and that was a big change that came around as well," he said.
"It's not that you're angels or anything but I'd hate people to meet me and think, 'That's a d***head'. I think you've to carry yourself well and be obliging when you can. I'd like to think that people think, 'He's a solid fella', and I think a lot of fellas are like that on our team."
The culmination of Gilroy's reign was their last-gasp 2011 All-Ireland final defeat of Kerry with Kevin McManamon's crucial goal finally getting the "monkey off our back".
McCarthy struggled through 50 minutes of their momentous All-Ireland win with a dead leg picked up in a training ground collision with Bryan Cullen affecting his input (he was forced to stretch vigorously the week before to avoid his quad completely locking up).
They were popular winners then but as they make the trip to O'Moore Park to face minnows Carlow on Saturday night, McCarthy realises success, and being a Dub, brings pressure.
"Every team when you get more successful, teams want to see you get beaten, that's the excitement of it as well. Manchester United people might feel sorry for them now because they are not where they were when they won everything, that just comes with the territory, you have to learn to deal with it," he said.
"There's always talk in Dublin for years about pressure and dealing with pressure but that is part and parcel of it, you just have to accept it. There's a big support there and you are the city team and other teams lift their game when they are playing against you.
"There's a lot of pressure from fans, you can't hide away from it, you have to step up, learn to deal with it and I think we have done a good job on that this last couple of years."
The powerful Ballymun Kickhams defender has dealt with the stress better than most and at 27, he's in a select crew with four All-Ireland medals. And with no interest in slowing down, Carlow should beware.
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