'I've had my craic' - Dublin star Jack McCaffrey sticking around 'long term'
Jack McCaffrey has made a long-term commitment to playing football with Dublin, insisting he won't be taking time out to go travelling again in the future like he did in 2016.
McCaffrey spent three months last summer working and travelling through Africa as Dublin put together back-to-back All-Ireland titles in his absence. But the "spark" that left the Clontarf man in the year after he was crowned Footballer of the Year has returned, he insisted, with no plans to take off again.
McCaffrey, a UCD medical student, downplayed a previous suggestion that studies or work could leave him out of the equation again next year.
"That's just the way medicine works. Based on your results you go into a CAO-like system for your intern year and you could end up anywhere in the country," he explained.
"But no, I'm around long term. I've had my craic. It's somewhere (Africa) I would love to go back to but when I'm in a position to do more professional stuff."
Nor does he feel his medical career will shorten his involvement in elite sport, given the time commitment involved in both.
"I can't see myself living anywhere else long-term. I want to stay and work in Ireland. I don't have a clue what area of medicine I want to go into and there's probably varying degrees of odd hours and this, that and the other.
"I don't think it'll be a mutually exclusive thing, medicine or football or football or medicine, or I certainly hope not anyway."
McCaffrey insists he had no regrets about taking the year out, coming home two days beforehand to watch Dublin beat Kerry in an All-Ireland semi-final and then reclaim their All-Ireland title.
He admits his departure might have been a bigger issue for others than it was for him at the time.
"I can understand how it might strike some people as strange. And playing for Dublin was a childhood dream of mine, and I love every minute of it.
"But for some reason the spark was gone that year and obviously my close friends who know me well, when I chatted to them and explained it to them (they knew). I really, really enjoyed it (Africa). My head wasn't in the football. And the one thing about inter-county football is you don't half-do it. You'll be found out if you do that."
It wasn't a snap decision either and was one he felt coming at the end of the previous year.
"I went off to Thailand with a few of my friends around Christmas 2015 and came back at the start of 2016 and thought that it would just take me a while to get back into it. But it quickly became apparent that I wasn't enjoying it as much as I'm used to and as I am now."
He could never have been selective about it either and felt there was an "all-or-nothing element" to the decision to pull away completely rather than play on until his departure.
"I don't think that enjoyment would have been there. Plus, it's a very competitive team. I don't think that would have been feasible."
McCaffrey committed to working for a week-and-a-half with GOAL in Ethiopia. He then travelled through Kenya (where he stayed with Irish priests), met some friends in Zambia, where they had their hospital placement, and then went to Malawi and Tanzania for leisure.
His placement work was "eye-opening" but he felt somewhat helpless in his desire to do more.
"It's something that will maybe give me a desire when I am bit older and a bit greyer when I'm in a place that I can actually make a bit of a difference.
"When I was over there I was a bit - not that I'm in the way - but I'm not exactly qualified to do much at the minute. It's something that I would revisit further down the line. It's an amazing place. But I don't think it changed me hugely in any deep way."
McCaffrey acknowledged there was no prospect of being parachuted back into the Dublin squad when he returned at the end of August, despite the obvious need for half-back cover.
"It's not something that I thought would possibly happen. I just don't think that's the way, given how well the team had been training and playing, that I could just slot in. I probably wasn't in shape to slot in anyway."
McCaffrey admitted the toughest part of making his decision to go last year was the uncertainty that he might not get back.
"The Dublin team is so competitive. It was a departure for a year of my own volition. I had to be okay with the possibility that I'd never play for Dublin again.
"That was probably the thing that I discussed with my dad (Noel) a bit. Just so that I was aware. Luckily, it hasn't happened, but it was a possibility and I ended up being okay with it.
"I could have come back and gotten injured, I could have come back in awful shape. Three wing-backs could have just... any multitude of things."
McCaffrey has recovered from a hamstring injury that he picked up in the last round of the league against Monaghan and expects to play for Clontarf in their Dublin Championship second round match next week.
"It's always a disappointment to get injured," he said.
"In 2015 at the start of the year I set a goal of playing every minute for Dublin that I could and I did the same at the start of this year. It wasn't to be unfortunately."
With his return last year McCaffrey was able to help Clontarf's push back into Division 1 league football in Dublin and spend time playing with his best friends and appreciating more the great chasm that exists between inter-county players and their clubs.
"Obviously it's not feasible to play 100 pc (with the club). I'm in a bit of a different position at the minute in that Clontarf went up to Division 1 last year and we're kind of trying to get a foothold there.
"So for us our league games would nearly be more important than the championship, which is the reverse for most lads. It's very tough seeing your club when you go up and you're watching the lads lose by two or three points, a point and you're standing there unable to do anything. These are your best friends."