Saturday 18 August 2018

'We want to be known as a really great team'

It’s no accident that Dublin win these tight games by a point, insists McCarthy

James McCarthy, left, and Philly McMahon with Conal Barker-Keogh, 16 days old, from Mulhuddart in Dublin, during the All-Ireland Champions’ visit to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
James McCarthy, left, and Philly McMahon with Conal Barker-Keogh, 16 days old, from Mulhuddart in Dublin, during the All-Ireland Champions’ visit to Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

James McCarthy lowers himself into the chair and lists the limbs, joints and even an organ that are giving him aches.

"My calf, my hip, my shoulder, my eye (bruised). I'm wrecked," he declared.

He's well entitled to be. These almost annual collisions with Mayo now are the most attritional and aggressive of the modern or maybe any age, games that ask more of bodies and minds than any other.

"They're just hugely physical games, not just hitting-wise, but running-wise. Everything's notched up," he admitted.

"They (Mayo) seem to raise their game to a different level when they're playing us each year, I don't know what it is exactly."

McCarthy's switch to midfield gave Dublin a new dimension all summer but his redeployment to half-back when Jack McCaffrey was forced off early produced a performance that puts him on the cusp of a Footballer of the Year award.

"It probably messed up a few things, a few match-ups. It took us a few minutes longer than it should have to get control of things but it was obviously a big loss, Jack has had such a good summer," he recalled. "What's that famous saying? You've all the plans until you get punched in the mouth.

"That's what it's like. You can have all your plans, but emotionally you've to get to the level in big games. And the physicality. Once you get that pitch, I find everything else just kind of flows."

McCarthy is one of the four current Dublin players who have links back to the teams of the 1970s and '80s and his father John missed out on a coveted three-in-a-row when they lost to Kerry in the 1978 final.

Thus, being able to overlook the tantalising prospect of three-in-a-row was virtually impossible, he acknowledged, and was something that motivated them. Accepting it was there for them and on the line made pursuit all that much easier.

Motivating

"Of course it's there, you can't hide away from it. You've got to accept what's on the line. The sooner you do that I think the better place you'll be in mentally to try and take it on. Of course, it was a motivating factor, you'd be lying if you didn't say it was."

McCarthy admitted he could understand Mayo's desperation but it irked him to think that they could be considered so much the hungrier team.

"They obviously have that big gap but we're at that stage at the moment where we want to be the best team. We have that hunger as well, I think people maybe underestimate our bit of bite. People don't realise that. Obviously they are chasing their first All-Ireland in so many years, but when you get the first one it gives you belief first of all, and it also makes you feel how good it is to do it so you want to get there again and again. You don't want to be known as the team that won just one or two. You want to be known as one of the really great teams."

McCarthy admitted the lack of a sustained test during the championship may have been an issue for them in the first half when they struggled to find their best form.

"We probably had it easy all summer but you don't be long about finding out what the level is you have to get up to.

"Obviously, we prepared for the semi-final and we thought it would be one of those games that goes down to the wire. But we got such a good start, I think we got a hop on them and they were caught a bit on the back foot.

"Our training is intense, we are a very experienced side so we know what level we have to get to each year. That's a big advantage for us. Sunday was probably a different notch to what I've experienced over the years."

McCarthy feels the cavalier spirit of the team is what invariably gets them out of tight situations like Sunday, a fourth All-Ireland final in seven years they've won by one point.

"We always go for it, win or lose at the end. We always say we are going to cut loose first. I hate the feeling, it's happened me over the years, coming off the pitch when you think you should have done that or you should have done this, it's a horrible feeling.

"Our biggest strength is that different guys can step up at different times. I don't think it's by chance we win these games by a point. We've won too many of them at this stage to call it luck. I wasn't happy out there after the first half and we just said we'd really have a cut at this."

At 27, McCarthy is the youngest of the 13 Dublin players who now possess five All-Ireland medals - Stephen Cluxton, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan, Mick Fitzsimons, Michael Darragh Macauley, Darren Daly, Denis Bastick, Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan, Kevin McManamon, Eoghan O'Gara and Diarmuid Connolly are the others.

Provided the body survives the physical excesses of games like Sunday he is the strongest prospect to bridge the gap to those Kerry players who have seven and eight All-Ireland medals. Could he see such a successful run when he first broke into the team in 2011?

"I always knew we'd be fairly strong and competitive each year. I knew from underage we had players there, it was just a matter of knitting it together with brilliant management.

"We got drip-fed a player or two each year. Brian Fenton came in a few years ago, Jack McCaffrey came in and now young Con O'Callaghan has come in and they just give that little bit more that you need. It's hard to believe."

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