Wednesday 23 October 2019

'What does money have to do with family? Me and my da. Jack McCaffrey’s dad, Bernard Brogan’s dad, Dean Rock’s dad'


Blue blood: James McCarthy is 30 next year and has undergone a number of surgeries but
he has no intention of calling time with Dublin any time soon. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Blue blood: James McCarthy is 30 next year and has undergone a number of surgeries but he has no intention of calling time with Dublin any time soon. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

“Don't forget to shoot, kid!” James McCarthy can smile about it now, because he smiled about it then, too.

There was just over an hour gone when he picked the ball up beneath the Cusack Stand. Jim Gavin’s easy words – "Trust your instinct" – are always a recurring soundtrack and this is what he does now.

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That familiar lazy swing of the right leg – which had threatened to fail him during the summer – and a booming point to restore his side’s four-point advantage.

"My first shot of the year!"

Moments from history now. A seventh Celtic Cross. His first came when Davy Hickey and Mickey Whelan were helping Pat Gilroy in 2011. Only McCarthy and Stephen Cluxton started all seven finals and two replays.

Hickey’s text had come on the Wednesday after the drawn game; McCarthy had made peace with his underwhelming performance, as had his team. Now it was about taking the next step. Together.

"Jack McCaffrey and Dean Rock had carried us the first day, the rest of us had underperformed," says McCarthy.

"I like to make impacts, a big tackle, a turnover, a hard carry, catching a kick-out, a score.

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"But I had none of these in the first game. I set targets for myself and I didn’t hit them. It was just about us playing better as individuals. And then the rest would come."

He is now deigned and deified as an immortal by his adoring city’s tribe but on this Friday morning he feels anything but.

A quad injury has stemmed his tentative return to club training, itself a delicate operation after an intensive swirl of celebrations; unlike others, his finished up on Tuesday because, well, at 29 he’s getting on you see.

An email-flooded return to work was a reminder that, although those who idolise him only see fantasy, he only exists by living in reality.

And then an emotion he never thought he would feel, in this week of all weeks. Anger. Somebody shared a link of RTÉ’s discussion about whether Dublin have an unfair advantage.

"Give it a rest," he tweets.

But it nags him, still.

"What does money have to do with family? Me and my da. Jack McCaffrey’s dad, Bernard Brogan’s dad, Dean Rock’s dad. We have brothers on this team. What does money have to do with a family playing football all their lives?

"It annoys me a lot. It discredits all the work and time we put in. Have a look at Ballymun Kickhams. Our pitch is 20 minutes away from the community. You wouldn’t send a kid up there on their own with the M50 so dangerous.

"We’ve an astropitch that we probably should never have built, one grass pitch and a clubhouse which is almost derelict. Look at Philly McMahon, coming from the toughest place to grow up in the country.

"But we’ve six players on the squad. It’s just a constant rub on our team, on all the hard work and the time so many people put in."

As a kid, he would watch his dad, John ‘Macker’ McCarthy, who won three All-Irelands in another storied era, and his three older brothers running the Bull Wall from Fairview to the wooden bridge and back.

Then James would join in. 100m. 200m. The baths and back. Then circuits.

"There used to be a running track where the Alfie Byrne pitches are. Luckily, I’m athletic but it didn’t happen because we had loads of money."

In the Sacred Heart school in Ballygall, Eoin McConville – "a mad man from Armagh" – and Diarmuid Murphy from Erin’s Isle fostered a love that might have veered towards athletics or soccer.

Dublin’s togetherness often seems contrived, but if it were the evidence would be writ large on the field; even the noise about Diarmuid Connolly’s return amuses him now.

"Diarmuid has been one of the biggest influences on the team in 10 years nearly. He had a bit of stuff going on but there was never any question of him not coming back. He’s part of the family. You can’t believe how tight we are as a squad. We care about each other."

He sees the bond between his father’s men and part of him longs for the quieter days ahead when this century’s heroes will share similar times.

Hickey and ‘Macker’ were the closest; Anton O’Toole completed the circle, even taking up golf as a new generation of heroes invoked deeds of their elders.

John was playing golf with Anton when he first took ill last year. Frail, yet still fiery, Gavin brought him into meet the current team.

"You could feel the passion pouring out of him, even though he was struggling with his speech. That whole team got a new lease of life from our success. We’re just a part of the thread."

Anton died in May and wouldn’t see history but he knew it was coming. Even now, the talk is of the team breaking up rather than forging on.

Cluxton spoke to McCarthy this week. "Macker, I played 10 years and we lost every year. It was crushing.

"And then all you guys come along and we start winning. Why would I want to leave that?"

Why indeed. McCarthy is 30 next year and with two significant ops in a year behind him; few knew it but he had his right knee done the day after beating Meath.

"Ah you’d get sick of the Guinness after a while! I’ve a bit of fight left. I still get a huge kick out of it and I think I can contribute.

"I’m not ready to go yet. I’ve had a tough enough year with injuries. But after you have a bit of time off, the itch gets to you. It’s hard to stop."

Hard to stop any of them.

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