Friday 17 January 2020

'We're still the same team' - Jack McCaffrey seeks to write new chapter with new Dublin boss Dessie Farrell

McCaffrey looking forward to new chapter on and off pitch and backs new Dubs boss Farrell to 'fly it'

Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey in action during their 2019 All-Ireland final victory. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey in action during their 2019 All-Ireland final victory. Photo: Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Bar those early months as a senior rookie in 2012, when Pat Gilroy was his boss, Jack McCaffrey has known only two Dublin managers as he accelerated through the grades at breakneck speed.

Jim Gavin has now left the stage, leaving a trail of plaudits and near-impossible benchmarks to emulate.

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Enter Dessie Farrell. Or, in McCaffrey's case, re-enter Dessie.

The 26-year-old first encountered Farrell at an Easter tournament for promising U-12s or U-13s, he's not quite sure which precise age. He would be his Dublin development squad coach over the next few years before things ramped up at minor.

Together they suffered All-Ireland heartbreak in 2011; but McCaffrey was his triumphant U-21 skipper in 2014.

Now, almost six years on, they will be back in harness. Not in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park this Saturday, where Farrell is expected to road-test a raft of Sky Blue wannabes in the Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup semi-final against Longford, but quite likely from the start of the Allianz League, and the looming resumption of Croke Park battle with Kerry on January 25.


The four-time All-Star is confident that his former underage mentor will embrace the ultimate senior challenge.

Jack McCaffrey in his role as Denis Mahony Toyota Brand Ambassador. Photo: INPHO
Jack McCaffrey in his role as Denis Mahony Toyota Brand Ambassador. Photo: INPHO

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Speaking yesterday in his role as a Denis Mahony Toyota brand ambassador, he sounded equally positive that skipper Stephen Cluxton will return for another year once he recovers from minor shoulder surgery, suggesting that the 38-year-old 'keeper is "gung-ho to play again".

But it won't be quite the same old Dublin either as they go chasing six-in-a-row. It can't be.

"I am sure that there will be probably a few new faces. The dynamic of the group changes slightly every year as people come and go. A new manager is a big change," McCaffrey accepted.

"I am sure that Dessie will put his own slant on things. Likewise, I can't imagine that he will come in and rip down everything and try and build from the bottom up.

"I am sure that he will tweak things, put his own stamp on stuff. He probably will have some very new ideas but, dynamic-wise, it will change slightly but I think it will be the same core group."

But what of the pressure that comes with replacing a manager who won six All-Irelands out of seven?

"Dessie's own credentials are pretty outstanding," McCaffrey reminded.

"I always find it helpful when a manager has played the game at the highest level and, growing up, he was one of the legends that I would have looked up to.

"He knows what it is like as a player. He spoke about that in the meeting (with last year's panel before Christmas), being a player under a change of management. He has that experience from our point of you.

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"I don't think that he is under any illusions about the pressure-cooker environment he is coming into. He is a fantastic fella to deal with it, in my experience. I think he will fly it."

Harking back to their previous link-up, he recalled: "My first real experiences with him would have been minor football when we properly came together as a team. I do have fond memories of travelling down to Carlow U-14s and blitzes with Mayo U-14s. It is a really exciting time for you, it is your first time thinking that I am in the bracket of people who could play for Dublin one day. I am playing with the Dublin jersey on against other counties and Dessie Farrell is on the line - it was pretty cool."

And yet, barely six weeks ago, no one saw this coming. Certainly not McCaffrey. The Dublin squad had been called to a Saturday meeting by Gavin, with Declan Darcy and Jason Sherlock also there.

"Nobody knew exactly what it was for," he recounts. "Jim, Dec and Jayo were present and, as they always have been, were up front and honest with us. Said that they were not going to be involved next year. Explained some of the reasons behind that. Lads expressed their gratitude, we had a good chat ... and that was the end of a pretty exciting chapter in all our lives.

"I'd be very reluctant to talk legacy because we're still the same team. Jim probably has a lot of time on his hands to reflect on that himself. I'd hope he'd be very proud of everything he has achieved. For us, I suppose I'll look back on my career as a whole when it comes to an end. There will definitely be chapters in it and a very significant one will be the Jim Gavin chapter.

"It's all eyes on next year - or this year, now. Getting started under Dessie which is really exciting as well. I haven't afforded myself too much time to think about a legacy, per se."

Besides, Dr McCaffrey has other big issues to contend with - such as starting a new job in St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny, on Monday. It will be his full-time base for six months until July, when he returns to Holles Street.

"I am doing a two-year rotation in paediatrics at the moment and, of that two years, you have to do six months outside Dublin and you have to do six months in a maternity hospital. So I am heading down to Kilkenny to do my general 'paeds' ... I am really looking forward to it."

McCaffrey may have won a junior hurling medal with Clontarf back in the day - "dual star, is that what they call them?" he quipped - but he isn't foreseeing any dramatic Nowlan Park call-ups.

Instead, he must adjust to the "new logistical challenge" of being an inter-county footballer while juggling work and training in two different counties.

As for the big picture challenge of 2020, he stressed that Farrell "made it clear at that first meeting that everybody was going to get a chance and have a clean slate starting off.

"I might have been a bit more excited, knowing the man coming in but knowing Dessie and how he always puts Dublin GAA first and foremost, he's not going to have any personal preferences based on something we did together basically a decade ago."

Irish Independent

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