The venue doesn’t make any difference to how we play our game – James McCarthy
The danger with all this is the likely backlash. It’s hard to shake the distinct feeling that you are only poking the bear when asking Dublin how they’ll fare in championship action away from Croke Park.
They are going for a sixth Leinster title in a row and a 16th consecutive win in the province. They have nothing to prove in Leinster. But talk of how different things could be if Jim Gavin’s men played outside of Dublin 3 just might leave the champions feeling like they need to remind the rest of the province just how dominant they can be. On Saturday evening, Laois will be the first to test their mood.
James McCarthy is a bit nonplussed by it all. He’s excited by the return of summer football and the prospect of a full house. That the game takes place in Kilkenny is of little significance.
“I don’t think it’s that difficult for us,” he replied when quizzed on the unfamiliar venue. “I think we’ve had a damn good record over the last few years playing away from home.
“So I don’t think it’s going to be a factor. Obviously if conditions are bad or something like that, then that’s more of a problem when you’re trying to play football.
“But where the pitch is, I don’t think it makes any difference to how we play our game, we’ll just try to move the ball as fast as we can into the forwards. It won’t have a bearing on how we play our game.”
With its similar dimensions to Croke Park and top-notch surface, there will be plenty familiar about Nowlan Park. And McCarthy will be looking to continue his good form this year that has seen his price for Footballer of the Year collapse from 66/1 into a joint-second favourite at 14/1.
“I’ve enjoyed my football this year,” he said. “Touch wood, now I’m injury-free and this is probably the most games I’ve played in a couple of seasons.
“I think I’ve played every game this year so the more games you get the more sharp you are and the better football you’re playing.”
McCarthy and Dublin will expected to record a seventh successive Leinster Championship win over Laois on Noreside. And as the summer unfolds, the GAA world will watch to see who, if anyone, can derail their bid for a second successive Sam Maguire.
“The first thing is to accept we haven’t defended the title in so long and we are all very aware of that,” said McCarthy, who, like his father John, has won three Celtic Crosses with the Dubs.
“We don’t see it as pressure. What we did in the past is in the past. We are trying to win it this year. I don’t think there is any added pressure and if there is I think we all know how to deal with it at this stage, I don’t think it is going to affect us.
“That’s not going to be the reason we don’t win the All-Ireland this year if we don’t win it. It’ll be down to maybe not performing on the day or a better team beats us. It will be as simple as that. It won’t be because we’re worried about trying to defend our title, we’re going beyond that now and are able to handle it.”
It’s all a far cry from the side that McCarthy joined. He watched on as a sub when Meath put five goals on them in 2010 and agrees that everything changed after they got over the line in 2011.
Suddenly Dublin started winning the tight games they had previously been losing.
“Even if you look at a lot of the games after (the 2011 All-Ireland final) a lot of the games we won there were tiny margins in it. 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. Those are small margins and we have been fortunate to come out the right side of those margins. There’s not much in it at that level.”
Dublin’s rivals can point to the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final with Donegal as to where Gavin’s all-conquering troops can perhaps be targeted. But McCarthy believes that defeat along with the others they have suffered in recent years have made them a better team.
“As each year has gone by we’ve definitely become a better team. Nobody knows everything, we are trying to learn things every year and progress. We’ve seen lots of game-plans tried against us now and I think we are getting better at dealing with different things.
“In 2014 we got opened for a lot of goals but I think defensively we are pretty sound so we have to keep it going now. It’s all well being defensively sound in the league but you need to be in championship and the heat of battle.
“In Croke Park with big crowd it’s a lot tougher. You are relying more on your senses than your voice you have to be sharp but I think we have got better as we’ve gone on.
“We’re a tough team to play against now.”