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Mac eyes up a blue summer


Dublin Footballer James McCarthy at the launch of the A Menarini ‘Get Breathless for COPD’ charity cycle, which will see 50 cyclists travel from Galway to Dublin on June 10-11. Photo: Inpho

Dublin Footballer James McCarthy at the launch of the A Menarini ‘Get Breathless for COPD’ charity cycle, which will see 50 cyclists travel from Galway to Dublin on June 10-11. Photo: Inpho

Dublin Footballer James McCarthy at the launch of the A Menarini ‘Get Breathless for COPD’ charity cycle, which will see 50 cyclists travel from Galway to Dublin on June 10-11. Photo: Inpho

James McCarthy has never played a championship match outside of Croke Park. No surprise there - it hasn't happened to any Dub in ten years.

James McCarthy has never played on a losing Dublin team in the Leinster SFC. That's only marginally less of a surprise: this now-endangered startled earwig was last spotted six years ago.

One of these trends will be bucked on Saturday, when our Sky Blue tourists venture south in search of an exotic hurling outpost called Nowlan Park.

As for an unwanted second 'first' for McCarthy that evening? Let's be diplomatic and say there's a reason why Laois are priced 14/1 and the All-Ireland holders are 1/100.


You'll never hear McCarthy vent such presumptuous notions in public. Chances are, he doesn't harbour them in private either. He's a straight-up, humble type of guy who just happens to be blessed with classic pedigree (as the son of '70s star John), thoroughbred pace and a proven track record.

Besides, McCarthy Jnr does know something about wheels coming off when least expected. He was there - as a non-playing sub, learning the senior ropes from a ring-side seat - when it last assailed the Dubs in Leinster.

June 27, 2010 - the day of the five-goal Royal rout.

"I was on the bench that day - it was tough to watch," he recounts. "We got hit for six that day. Five goals.

"You wouldn't think you'd see a five-goal championship game and that was a real eye-opener for us. Meath played great football that day and had some really good forwards who cut us up.

"It was a setback for us; we had a good league that year and thought we were in a better position than we were. It brought us right back. Keeps us guarded about what can happen if you get complacent."

A bit like Donegal in 2014 - the last time Dublin lost in summer combat.

The Ballymun Kickhams man would collect his maiden All Star that year - welcome as the award was, it didn't negate the traumatic loss of Dublin's All-Ireland crown. "We'd always refer back to certain games and it keeps us sharp, I guess," he surmises.

"We weren't that far off that game (against Donegal). We were beaten that day by a better team - hands up, no complaints. They had a good plan for us and got goals at the right time and it's a killer. We look back at that game and we learned a lot from it as well. That's the way the cookie crumbles."


James McCarthy is now 26. Back when he first made the transition from All-Ireland winning U21 (in 2010) to senior mainstay (in 2011) Dublin had a far more extensive portfolio of losing reference points to "keep them sharp".

They had a reputation as nearly men. "When I started trying to break in with Dublin I was mad hungry for it," says McCarthy. "It was something I really wanted to do.

"It's probably an easier camp now that we have had that bit of success, and maybe it is easier to enjoy it. But we are a very tight camp too over the last few years. We've had a lot of success, we're on the road maybe seven or eight years now with this same bunch of players and we enjoy our time together - and our football."


Still, three Celtic Crosses in half a decade … did he expect that starting out? "You probably wouldn't," he admits. "When we started off, we had a lot of setbacks and hard games and maybe you didn't think it was coming. But we made the breakthrough in 2011 and that gave us that bit of belief."

Belief is one thing; complacency another. For all the talk of Dublin invincibility, he is quick to highlight the fine line between victory and defeat that has separated some of their greatest triumphs.

"A lot of the games we won, there were tiny margins," he reasons. "Mayo could have easily beaten us in the two semi-finals last year. Kerry had that chance in the final with Killian Young and he mishandled the ball ... we have been fortunate to come out on the right side of those margins."

Ultimately, Mayo were unhinged by a shell-burst of three goals. And yet the genesis of that comeback was McCarthy's point, a wing-back showing the courage of his convictions in the midst of crisis.

"I don't get a point that often," he reminds. "In our team, different fellas do it at different times. If you look at Ciarán Kilkenny … at the moment he is playing serious football.

"We have different guys to step up and that's a good position to be in. We are not just relying on two or three guys, which might have been years ago. Different lads can make big plays when we need them. It makes us harder to beat."

This year's summer journey is about to start in, of all venues, Nowlan Park. "One of the places I've never been," he confirms. He's been keeping tabs on the early games; took particular notice of how sharp Donie Kingston looked for Laois against Wicklow.

Big picture

That's the immediate focus. The big picture - why is defending Sam so darned difficult and can Dublin buck the trend?

"You can't stand still. What we did last year isn't going to be good enough to win it this year," he concludes.

So you've got to evolve, adapt, add new layers to your game - all to keep your chief rivals guessing.

"I'm sure those teams are planning on trying to beat us, but we're planning on trying to beat them too. There probably is a bit of paranoia out there or whatever you want to call it, but you just have to be ready for whatever is coming down the line."