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Kingdom classic was so tough I struggled

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Dublin's James McCarthy.

Dublin's James McCarthy.

Dublin's James McCarthy.

AS flying half-backs go, James McCarthy ranks high up the jet-heeled charts ... but even Dublin's dashing No 5 struggled to catch his breath during that classic All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry last September.

Five months on from that explosive encounter, the Dubs and the Kingdom will renew their storied rivalry with an Allianz League opener under the Croke Park lights on Saturday night week.

The Division One showdown, covered live on Setanta Ireland, will come too early for McCarthy as he steps up his recovery from a groin injury that first flared up last summer.

Part of him might even appreciate having the night off, given his most recent memories of facing Kerry, especially that torrid opening 20 minutes when Dublin leaked three goals and their All-Ireland quest teetered on the brink of collapse.

"The first 20 minutes wasn't great now, to be honest," McCarthy recalled yesterday.

"It was a great game of football. We got hit for six in that first 20 minutes, but we kept going. We knew if we stuck at it ... Paul Mannion got that crucial score to keep us in it, going in at half-time a point or two down having not played too well at all."

You wonder if a player, caught in the maelstrom of such a breathless, end-to-end contest, can appreciate just how a special a game was unfolding?

"I remember at times of the game trying to catch my breath," the Ballymun clubman replied.

"That is when you know you are playing in a high-intensity, fast game. I was out of breath for long periods of that game, just trying to hang on. Kerry play fast football and you have to hang in there."

GUNSLINGERS

Ultimately, Jim Gavin's gunslingers did more than merely hang in, plundering two late goals to settle a knife-edge epic.

Seventy fraught minutes later, Mayo were put to the sword and Dublin were All-Ireland champions for the second time in three seasons.

McCarthy was a wing-back mainstay for both of those triumphant campaigns, but he has also experienced the 'second season syndrome' that inevitably seems to snare every holder in defence of Sam. He believes the chastening experience of 2012 will serve the Dubs in good stead this season.

"A lot of us are still involved that were around in 2012," he pointed out.

"We may have just taken our eye off the ball a bit that year, particularly the league ... we were trying to win each game, but we didn't perform that well and it's something we're going to try and target this year.

"It was the same with last year; just try and win every game of football we play. I'm really looking forward to this league."

McCarthy stressed that – in the immediate wake of their erratic 2012 league – there wasn't any sense within Pat Gilroy's squad that a more difficult summer beckoned.

"It wasn't a disastrous league for us – we didn't get relegated or anything like that," he pointed out.

"We just got caught on the hop in one or two of the games.

"I can't really put my finger on exactly what happened, but there'll be no room for any sort of complacency this year.

There's lads waiting there to nip in if you're not performing, it's as simple as that. You just won't be playing if you're not performing to a certain level."

He continued: "I think the league is very important. You kind of get on a roll, go from week to week; you're winning games and the vibes are good and everyone's really looking forward at just going game to game.

"You get that winning habit and you don't want to lose it."

On the subject of losing, McCarthy is still haunted by Ballymun's All-Ireland defeat to St Brigid's, having established an early eight-point lead.

"That will be with me for the rest of my career, the rest of my life. The club All-Ireland is so hard to get to," he winced.

Another harrowing defeat followed last November – the loss of their Dublin SFC crown to St Vincent's after a gripping replay – and McCarthy has spent the ensuing period resting his troublesome groin and then rehabbing in the gym.

He went back running last week and hopes to step it up next week with a return to collective training. Will Kerry come too soon? "I think so, yeah."

One more week to catch his breath, then.


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