Sunday 25 February 2018

'I was distraught, I couldn't get a break' - Dublin's McCarthy

McCarthy: “It was mixed emotions at the end of the game because we were in a position to win it, and we didn’t.
McCarthy: “It was mixed emotions at the end of the game because we were in a position to win it, and we didn’t." Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Sitting helplessly in the stand after being black-carded just 25 minutes into the drawn All-Ireland SFC final, James McCarthy's world was caving in.

Croke Park's big screen captured his devastation when panning to the Ballymun Kickhams defender seconds after the incident with Cillian O'Connor ended his afternoon.

It was another body blow for McCarthy (below) having battled back from medial knee ligament damage, when he heard a "little pop" in training, and a shoulder injury against Kerry that adrenaline, gritted teeth and some strapping got him through.

Limited to non-contact drills in the final build-up as a result, ironically it was a shoulder which saw him receive his marching orders from referee Conor Lane. Another setback but this one felt insurmountable.

"Just distraught," McCarthy says. "What happened before, and then this happens now, you're kind of going, 'I'm not going to get a break this year.' I thought it was very harsh, I thought it was a very soft black card. I was just angry.

"Of all things, an All-Ireland final and you're preparing yourself for it, you don't expect that to happen. It's a nightmare, a complete nightmare. It's very hard to watch the game then, feeling like you could do something if you were out there. That's very tough to take.

"It was weird. You are watching with ten minutes to go and kind of thinking, 'I'd love to be out there, get a ball and drive on or do something'. So it is tough watching on, especially when we weren't playing that well either.

"It was mixed emotions at the end of the game because we were in a position to win it, and we didn't. Obviously you're thinking, 'At least I have a chance to play the next day'. So, kind of weird emotions after it."

The black card itself doesn't irk him but the nature of his dismissal does. Inconsistency seems to be its calling card and McCarthy feels a 10-minute sin bin would be a much fairer punishment for rule-breakers while he feels it also brings another unsavoury element into the game.

"The idea of the black card is right but it's the way it's being implemented. It's just very inconsistent. One moment you're put off for something that's barely a free, and the next moment some guys are getting away with cynical fouls.

"A sin bin might be a good way of doing it. Going down to 14 men for ten minutes in a big game - that's a pretty big punishment for a team, you're on the ropes then really.

"I think there is an element coming into the game now of guys feigning maybe, putting guys off or feigning injury and stuff. Nobody wants that in the game.

"It's definitely something we wouldn't want to buy into and I wouldn't buy into myself.

"I'd hate to put a guy off by pretending to go down or something like that. I wouldn't do it. But that opens up that it can be done. Maybe some teams are willing to do that as well. I don't think anybody wants that."

Citing the two epic All-Ireland hurling semi-finals between Kilkenny and Waterford this year, the 26-year-called for referees to be less whistle-happy, let games flow more for the benefit of players and spectators.

"When you have whistles blown for ten minutes to deal with yellow cards I think it makes a mess of it. Obviously you need some sort of cards as punishment, but if teams were allowed to go at it more I think everybody would be happy."


There was no happier man leaving GAA HQ that September evening than McCarthy because an opportunity to atone was presented to him and he had a point to prove. And rather than wait 12 months, redemption was just 13 days away.

"I felt I kind of owed the team a big enough performance, so on a personal level I was really driven for the game. And I was happy with how I played in the second game, I thought I was motoring well. Bad things come in three as they say. They tell me at home it's bound to swing," he says.

McCarthy was straight into club action after the Sam Maguire win and is likely to pick up Dublin team-mate Brian Fenton when they tackle Raheny in tomorrow's Dublin quarter-finals.

Despite a long season he won't want for motivation when 2017 wheels around.

"I want more, you get a taste for it. Once you get a break after a couple of weeks, you start thinking about it and you miss it. You miss going back training and the competition.

"I get a kick out of those big games, how tight they can be and being on the other side of them is a special feeling. I wouldn't say it's like a drug but you want it more and more.

James McCarthy was speaking as AIG Insurance held a reception to mark Dublin's All-Ireland success this year. Go to or for more information

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