Friday 24 May 2019

Weight of history rests lightly on McCarthy

Ballymun star makes strong case for defence as summer comes into view

Dublin footballer James McCarthy pictured at AIB's launch of the 2019 All-Ireland SFC. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin footballer James McCarthy pictured at AIB's launch of the 2019 All-Ireland SFC. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

James McCarthy doesn't show any signs of a man standing on the brink of history.

Five in a row puts this Dublin team on a level all of its own, while a seventh All-Ireland medal for McCarthy would put him alongside greats of the game like Eoin 'Bomber' Liston and Jack O'Shea.

Still McCarthy remains impassive, nonplussed by it all.

However much Dublin try to insulate themselves from the talk of history, the storm will swirl around him and his Dublin team from here until we know their fate.

The 'Drive for Five' talk is unavoidable but the protracted Diarmuid Connolly saga hasn't gone away largely because Dublin haven't been definitive. They have left a vacuum that has been filled by speculation. And McCarthy didn't want to shed any further light.

"Ask Jim that now," he replies when asked if Connolly was training with the squad.

He won't be drawn any more on that but he will talk about Rory O'Carroll's return to the squad. It some corners it has been interpreted as an acknowledgement that Dublin have struggled to deal with high balls lumped in on top of their defence.

On occasion during the last few seasons, McCarthy has been sent back to deal with aerial threats but he insists the Dublin rearguard is more than capable of holding their own.

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"I'm playing with these guys for years, I think we've an absolutely great set of defenders," he says as AIB enter into their fifth season sponsoring the All-Ireland championship.

"We always had. It's been one of the really strong points of our team. Look, if you concede a goal any type of way, a few high balls, what team hasn't (conceded goals that way)?

Weakness

"Do I think it's a weakness? Absolutely not. I think it's one of the strongest points of our team and look, it's great, Rory's come back as well and he just adds to that competition back there. He's a really great footballer so I'm not worried about it whatsoever."

O'Carroll hasn't played for Dublin since the All-Ireland final of 2015 but was called back in despite being back in the country a couple of months and having played just two championship games with Kilmacud Crokes.

However, McCarthy has no concerns about his ability to fly at football's highest altitude once more.

"Rory's a great fella, it's great to have him around. Unfortunately, he played against us (Ballymun) a few weeks ago and he looked very good, he looked very fit and strong so I was impressed. He's obviously been doing something since he's been away.

"He's been keeping himself in good shape. It's a huge plus and he'll add to our group - we already have a great set of the defenders and that will add huge competition to it. It could be interesting how it pans out.

"I suppose not too many guys have (gone away and returned) but knowing Rory and the type of guy he is, he doesn't get too flustered and he's a relaxed guy.

"He's obviously been doing some sort of training while he's been away and he's in good shape. I think he'll be fine."

Dublin put down a less-than-impressive league. The first-round defeat to Monaghan could be excused as they were only back from their holiday a matter of days but losses to Tyrone in Croke Park and Kerry in Tralee gave two of their main rivals just a sliver of hope.

"It was a mixed bag from us really, mixed the good and the bad," McCarthy says.

"But it was great in other ways we had seven games, close games all of them, and a few new guys blooded in and lads getting game-time and getting them back to speed so from that perspective it was good. But it was disappointing we didn't get he chance to defend our title."

Slowly the road is unfurling in front of them. After last weekend, Dublin now know that Louth will be their first test in their Leinster quarter-final on Saturday week.

Assuming they take the front door through Leinster, they are looking at eight games for glory. That is talk for another day. It's a new year and a new game.

"From our perspective we never talk about 'in a row' and all that kind of stuff. We take every year as you can, League first then it's championship. Same thing this year.

"All our focus is on the first game, people are going to say it to you, everyone knows it's out there, people are going to wish you well.

"That's the perspective I take on it. It doesn't add any extra pressure or any of that."

Irish Independent

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