‘I spend more time with the Dublin footballers than I do with my friends and family’

‘I spend more time with the Dublin footballers than I do with my friends and family’
Mary Rose O’Connell, age 12, Co Waterford with Dublin players, back row, from left, Con O’Callaghan, Cian O’Sullivan, Brian Howard, Rob McDaid and front row Jack McCaffrey, left, and Eoin Murchan at Crumlin hospital. Pic: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile.

“Wide-ranging, eh?”

Biding farewell, Jack McCaffrey knows this interview has been different but this is no ordinary morning after an All-Ireland success.

It’s become a recent tradition for him to sit down with journalists in the team’s Gibson Hotel to reflect on the day before but he’s offering more here. It’s not full disclosure yet it comes pretty close.

He reveals he was flummoxed after the drawn final for which he was named man-of-the-match because he couldn’t get his head around the fact Dublin had to go again.

“It was incredibly challenging. Not particularly because of the (five-in-a-row) narrative you try and keep out… but it does seep in. I played quite well in the drawn final.

"Analysing the game, that’s preparing as well. Whatever about the performance, it’s very hard to put into actual words the energy that goes into an All-Ireland final. And half of it is the energy you expend trying not to get overly excited in the build-up to it. You try to keep yourself level and keep yourself focused. Then you play the game and you’re flat afterwards.

"For the next week, if anyone asked me to kick a ball I emotionally wouldn’t be able to go out and play a game of football. You are two days after possibly the biggest game of your entire career and at the same time you’re counting down from an All-Ireland final (replay) and you’re trying to square those circles. It is very difficult.

“I found the week after the drawn game incredibly challenging. I was arriving at training and thinking, ‘This should be done, I cleared my locker out and brought everything home and now have to bring it all back up.”

All the arrangements the medic had so carefully made in Temple Street Hospital had to addressed again.

I missed my first (ever) training session with Dublin on the Thursday after the drawn game. I had not legislated for a replay and I was ringing Jim (Gavin) telling him, ‘I might be 10 minutes late, I might be 15 minutes late,’ and in the end I told him, ‘I am not going to make it’.

“He said, ‘Look, you’re trying your best, we’ve lads who work in incredibly challenging areas’.

“And Jim has always sworn by work taking priority and your personal life taking priority and football slotting in after that. He really stands by those words.”

A hamstring injury forced his withdrawal on Saturday evening but he had no fears for his colleagues and their quest for history.

“I was getting subbed off and was thinking, ‘It’s fine, whoever comes in is going to be on the money and we’re going to win’. I had complete confidence in what was going on.”

Headlines

His replacement, Diarmuid Connolly, garnered plenty of headlines since his shock return to the squad but McCaffrey insisted that his inclusion was not a distraction the Captial camp.

“I remember the session he came back, I was beaming and delighted to have him back. I’m looking over at Cian O’Sullivan now, these are some of the best friends that you’ll ever meet. I spend more time with the Dublin footballers than I do with my closest friends, probably than I do with my family.

“Without getting too emotional about it, I know things about the Dublin footballers that I don’t think anyone else in the world knows. I’ve spoken to the lads about things that I’ll never speak to anyone else about. To have Dermo come back into that fold and just being so open and honest about everything was incredible.”

He referenced an example of a chat with Bernard Brogan to back up his point. “We did a bit of an exercise earlier this year where we paired up and you said to the other lad what you respected in them. I was with Bernard Brogan and I just ended up saying to him in 25 years I can see myself texting you, ‘Will we grab lunch?

“What brings us together is we’re decent footballers and playing well together. What I love about this group is that I am really good friends with them and I have a deep, deep love for them.”

Like Brogan, James McCarthy and Dean Rock, McCaffrey is a member of an illustrious Dublin group whose fathers all played for the county.

“My father (Noel) is an interesting fellow. Everything I do has been influenced heavily by my father and obviously I have huge respect for him but I remember when I started with Dublin in 2013 and I think I had played two Championship games and got offered a sponsorship thing, which would have involved something like this talking to the media.

"He said, ‘I will pay you whatever they are paying you to not do that’. He had this thing that ‘whoever is in the paper plays crap the next day. Just don’t do it’. I ignored that advice.

“I don’t think you’ll ever find Noel McCaffrey talking about me in a newspaper! After finals, he’s the first fella I look for and it’s always a little bit bittersweet because I never knew my grandfather, my dad’s dad, or my grandmother - I’m lucky enough to have my two grandparents (are alive) on the other side and they take such pride in what I have done.

“I watched in the lead-up to the drawn final highlights of the 1985 All-Ireland final that Kerry beat Dublin and the image at the final whistle is my father collapsing to his knees.

"He was very unfortunate never to win an All-Ireland. So I’m keenly aware of how much this means to my family and that’s a large part of why I keep going and love it.”

He is more than his father’s son but he is privileged that it forms a significant part of who he is.

“You know, with fathers, everything you do there’s probably a tinge of them through it, and he’s been an incredible influence on me, and he’s really not shy when letting me know I played poorly and is really honest when I’ve played well.

"We’re obviously very different but I’d like to think that I’m honouring him in everything I do.

When you’re a kid, you don’t think ‘why do I love my parents?’ My mam and dad are two incredible people, and they just put us first. I’m the eldest of four, my sister Sarah, and two brothers, Conor and Niall. And my parents took time off work to bring us abroad.

"They would have worked half-time so we could always walk to school together, and all these intangible things that most parents do for their kids

“What I love in the build-up to these games is that I get a text off my mam and dad saying, ‘If football was to end, we’re really proud of you, the person you are, and where your life is going. Go out and enjoy yourself’.

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