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McCarthy Dublin's silent assassin

THERE would be changes, Pat Gilroy promised. Big changes.

And thus the anticipation that preceded the naming of Dublin's first 15 for the beginning of Dublin's 2010 league, a trip to Killarney, was in great disproportion to the actual importance of the fixture.

New style. New players. New Dublin.

In particular though: new defence.

Philly McMahon was jammed straight in after being dropped for a year.

He started alongside Rory O'Carroll, who had performed a cheeky disappearing act midway through the previous summer.

His brother, Ross - a hurling convert - was also listed by Gilroy, though Paul Conlon started in his stead.

In his 'anti-earwig' half-back line, two flyers, in both senses of the word; Cian O'Sullivan and James McCarthy, alongside captain Paul Griffin.

And though Dublin recorded their first win on Kerry soil since 1982, it was McCarthy who looked then more an ill-judged February experiment than summer survivor.

He grappled with Paul Galvin - not a noted early-league performer - conceded four points and struggled with the compact physicality and innate cunning of the then reigning Footballer of the Year.

Three years later, he marked Galvin in what would be the Kerry man's final inter-county game in last summer's All-Ireland semi-final.


They rutted like stags at the handshake but by the end, the balance had shifted.

Galvin was gone.

He kicked two points but at one stage, in the second half, as the Kerryman ran to pick up a ball and McCarthy lined up a hit, the Ballymun Kickhams man realised he could overtake Galvin from about two metres behind, scooped the ball and powered on up the field.

Galvin was subbed.

McCarthy was on his way to a second All-Ireland medal and now, you could argue with some clear justification that the Ballymun man is now on a one-way trip to one of the most successful careers of any Dublin footballer ever.

More immediately, you might conclude that he is the most consistent high performer in a highly performing team.

What's more, he does it with alarming stealth.

Dublin's silent partner.

"He does everything under the radar, if you like," says Paul Curran (pictured, right), his club manager with Ballymun Kickhams.

"He likes to stay away from the limelight. I'm not sure if he's not comfortable in it ... it's just the way that he is.

"He thinks about the business end of things and gets on with his job in a very, very understated way."

As McCarthy grew into seniordom, his unique physical capabilities became more obvious.

The first thing anyone notices about James McCarthy is how quick he moves while looking like a man out for a jog but not necessarily seeking to break sweat.

"Because of his sheer athleticism and the ease with which he runs, people have this perception of him that he does things so effortlessly. And in many ways, that's true," says Niall Moyna, who has coached McCarthy these past four years in DCU, where he has just completed a degree in Sports Science and will return next year to undergo a Masters in Business.

"I would have absolutely no doubt in my mind stating that if James McCarthy had been an athlete and run the 800 metres, he would have a talent very close to what Mark English (European Youth Olympic gold medallist) currently has," Moyna says.

"I think he's that good. If he trained and had the right coaching, I would be certain he could run 1:45 for the 800 metres."


For context, the Irish record is 1:44.82, set by David Matthews in Milan in 1995.

"He has phenomenal endurance," Moyna adds. "He could sustain a very high intensity. And he can run off that.

"Some can run at a high intensity and not go to another level. He can run at a high intensity and then, when he has to kick, he can do it effortlessly."

The other thing people tend to twig about McCarthy is just how lean he is for a man of his height, almost to the point of appearing skinny.

But check out his shoulder on Graham Reilly from last year's Leinster final on Youtube for an exhibition of his strength.

"I think it's genes," says Curran.

"His father (former Dublin footballer John of 1970s legend) was as tough as nails. Still is.

"I think it's just in him. It's in all the McCarthys. That tough gene. But if you saw this fella stripped off, he's all there."

Moyna agrees: "He actually loves contact. There is a toughness, a teakness about James."

That he is the son of John seems not to weigh particularly heavy on James's shoulders.

He is, as Curran outlines: "the youngest in the family and with a father who has won medals and is certainly a driving force with the lads.

"And being the youngest, all the pressure came on him to go and make it and I think he has just turned into one of the most incredible footballers."

He is quiet to the point of being shy.

In the couple of media interviews McCarthy has been volunteered to conduct by Dublin management, he has seemed genuinely surprised that anyone might want to talk to him about football.

At a recent media appearance, McCarthy gave a small insight into his rise, describing how the lifestyle of an inter-county footballer in a college as focused on football as DCU has accelerated his development.

As Curran points out: "These fellas now that going through college are like pros. They're essentially professional until they come out of college.

"So you're 
looking at four, maybe five, years in college, where they're doing nothing other than study and football. And everything is football orientated.

"They're absolute pros nowadays. They do nothing other than eat, sleep, drink football."

He did his thesis based around a programme started by Dr Noel 
McCaffrey - father of Jack - entitled Medical Exercise wherein people in the North Dublin area with chronic ailments such as heart disease, lung disease, cancerous diseases, dementia use sport as a form of treatment.

McCarthy spent 15 hours-a-week working there and was one of the leaders of the programme during the summer.

"Obviously Tony Diamond and Mick Bohan have been here for a number of years and I think they have had a huge role in moulding not just James, but all the kids that have come through here for the last two are three years," Moyna explains.


"It's no surprise that Dublin are playing the way that they are at the moment. To me, Mick is one of the best coaches around. He's five years ahead of most coaches in Ireland.

"And when you have that at college level, those players have a headstart on most other players," adds Moyna.

According to Curran, he has yet to arrive at the fullness of his potential.

"There's more in him," he insists.

"Offensively, there's more in him. He could bring an awful lot more. He could be kicking two or three points a game.

"They reckon players mature from 26 to 28, so this fella hasn't reached peak yet. I know there's a lot more in James McCarthy.

"Defensively, yeah, he's a hundred per cent. But he could bring so much more going forward.

"When he decides to go, there are very few players who have the ability he has and there's fewer again who can stay with him."

I think he has just turned into one of the most 
incredible footballers.

- Paul Curran