James McCarthy firing on all cylinders

Early in the summer of 2016, punters thought they possessed the golden ticket after backing James McCarthy for Player of the Year at 66/1.
James McCarthy firing on all cylinders

Dublin SFC final

BALLYMUN KICKHAMS V ST VINCENTS

Tonight: Parnell Park, 7pm

Referee: David O’Connor (Naomh Mearnog)

TV: Live on eir sport

A hushed-up knee injury that forced him out of two games, and an early black card in the drawn All-Ireland final, ultimately knocked him out of the reckoning.

But it’s no great surprise that having avoided injury this year, McCarthy is on the four-man shortlist for the 2017 award.

He plugged a gaping hole at midfield for Dublin beside Brian Fenton and his second-half tour de force in the final against Mayo secured that win.

The thing is, you’d hardly know he’s one of the most successful players in Dublin’s history, a five-time All-Ireland winner.

Like his father, John, a three-time winner in the 1970s, the Ballymun Kickhams man cuts a low profile figure.

“At 13 or 14, you hear everything then, ‘he’s like the father, he’s not like the father’,” James recalled of comparisons with his Dad. “You obviously knew he won All-Irelands but he wouldn’t be telling you. He wasn’t like that, not a blower.”

James isn’t a ‘blower’ either and goes about things in his own understated way yet has developed into one of the best players in Ireland.

“Watching James McCarthy’s Leinster final performance only reinforced the feeling that he’s Dublin’s most important outfield player,” said former Dublin captain Colin Moran in July. “But for a player who is so important to Dublin, it’s amazing the lack of coverage and headlines that McCarthy gets.”

Even tonight, when he lines out for Ballymun in the Dublin SFC final, the neutrals will probably be more focused on those around him; Dean Rock, Diarmuid Connolly, Philly McMahon.

Kevin Leahy, McCarthy’s long-time clubmate, summed up best why his colleague doesn’t always grab the headlines: “James is one of those that when you look at him running, it doesn’t look like he’s actually going that quickly, yet nobody can catch him,” said Leahy.

“Physically now he’s probably coming to his peak. He always had the engine and the legs but he’s kept maturing and midfield has really suited him I think.

“He was probably nailed-on as an out and out wing-back a couple of years ago. But when we got on the run to the All-Ireland with Ballymun a few years ago he played midfield for us, more because we had two good half-backs.

“He seems to be getting better year on year and has been brilliant this year for Dublin.”

McCarthy came into that 2013 All-Ireland club final against St Brigid’s of Roscommon with damaged ankle ligaments. It was a frustrating experience and they lost by a point. They haven’t got out of Dublin since and will need McCarthy at his most effective this evening to avoid going down as the great underachievers of Dublin club football.

“James would probably tell you it himself, even last year he was patched together from late summer right through,” said Leahy. “He did his utmost to get fit for us but he was never really operating on all cylinders. All of the lads have come back to us in really good shape this year.”

It’s one of the reasons why Ballymun are favourites to win just their second county title since 1985 though it’s hard to imagine it happening without McCarthy delivering.

“We lost to Vincents by a point in the semi-finals last year,” said wing-forward Leahy.

“In the first 10 or 15 minutes of that game we had good chances. James had a goal chance, I think Alan Hubbard had a goal chance. If we just gave ourselves that bit of a buffer, then if something does go wrong and you go a man down you are in a position to hold out. But we didn’t take our chances early in the game and paid the price in the end.”

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