Standing tall among big hitters
McCaffrey feels league title would be ‘huge step’ towards championship glory
On the eve of the biggest game of his life, Dublin captain Johnny McCaffrey's routine will remain the same.
And so, tomorrow, you'll find him at Lucan Sarsfields, getting a kick out of watching young children taking their first steps with hurl and ball.
The midfielder has found full-time employment as a coach with the club and at a time when hundreds of players, both club and inter-county, are ruing the hand that life has dealt them, McCaffrey's stack of chips is building up.
"It's great -- to be working for my own club is massive. It's great to see the kids enjoying themselves, real satisfaction in that," McCaffrey says. "To see the joy on their faces when things are going well and they're winning matches.
"On Saturdays before a game, I'm with the nursery at the club, four to seven-year-olds. It's not a bad thing, gets me out of the house, out and about.
"I could be sat twiddling my thumbs. Some lads would like to hide away and take it easy but this is my job, it's what I do."
Naturally, McCaffrey's not one to shy away from what life has to throw at him. Having captained Dublin to Leinster minor glory in 2005, McCaffrey repeated the trick with the U-21s two years later.
Those were special moments in their own right but the chance to claim a national title at senior level with the Dublin hurlers is something else entirely.
The hype surrounding Dublin's march to the final, fuelled by the successful Spring Series at Croke Park, has been significant.
But McCaffrey, earmarked as a special talent from a young age, has learned quickly how to cope with expectation.
He explains: "I've got used to it over the years. There are different things that can happen leading up to the game but you just get on with it. I like being part of a good team and playing in big matches.
"Some people enjoy the sideshows, some don't. I don't mind it and it doesn't really affect my game."
McCaffrey admits that the buzz surrounding the hurling final, compared to Dublin's appearance in last Sunday's football decider, is "a little bit more low-key."
But throughout the spring, and as we head towards early summer, McCaffrey has taken note of the side-effects of his team's spectacular form.
"The impact this year from the Spring Series and us going well has been massive," he says. "The kids are out playing on the green the morning after matches. I've seen 10 or 20 kids banging away with helmets on -- it's great."
He'd love to see a huge crowd turn out to support the hurlers on Sunday but in the capital, football remains box office, for now.
"A great atmosphere with a great crowd can help you in the last 20 minutes but we know that the people who turn up are the people who want to be there," says McCaffrey.
Kilkenny's recent injury worries, coupled with patchy form, have fuelled belief that Dublin can pull it off on Sunday.
But McCaffrey warns: "When anybody's injured in Kilkenny, the lads that come in are just as good, and they have All-Irelands to back it up. There's no such thing as an under-strength Kilkenny. They're missing a few but they'll still have a very strong 15.
"It's an unusual place for us to be in against them, unbeaten after playing them in two games this year, but this is a different task. Coming close to championship, the ground is a lot harder, everyone's in flying form and it will be high-intensity with massive hits.
"We're not going to get a second on the ball but we're well prepared for that.
"It would be massive for the county to win a Division 1 title, in our first final appearance in 65 years. For the team itself, it would be a huge step along the way to where we want to go. A lot of the lads in there have been around a while.
"The focus is on Sunday but we have other goals for the summer ahead. And whatever the result is, we have bigger fish to fry."
McCaffrey realises that despite the massive strides that have been made at under-age level in recent years, senior success is not a given.
"We're not going to be remembered for winning under-age. We want to be remembered for winning senior inter-county titles. We all came up through the ranks together and that's the thing we want," he says.
Driving them forward is Anthony Daly, captain of Clare's All-Ireland winning teams of 1995 and '97.
Daly came from a similar background, which suggested that Clare had no right to compete with the 'top teams.'
And McCaffrey believes it's something the Dublin players have tapped into.
"That's the biggest thing -- he was coming from a background where they hadn't won anything, weren't expected to, but then they came from nowhere. His experience is great for us. We totally respect the man, his commitment and love for the game is unbelievable," he says. "We're feeding off him and he's feeding off us -- things are going great.
"He's saying we're good enough to win things. He believes in us and we know the hours he's putting in travelling up and down from Clare.
"He's there every single night with different tips for different lads. Advice like that on a one-to-one basis can be brilliant.
"Some lads believed that we were good enough to go places, some didn't.
"But when Dalo came in, he got everyone on board. And when everyone bought into what he was saying, we knew we could go somewhere."