This should have been a difficult week for Jack McCaffrey, the days when it struck him like a freight train exactly what he walked away from.
Dublin are just 70 minutes from becoming back-to-back All-Ireland champions, something they haven’t done in almost 40 years, and the 2015 Player of the Year was certain to be involved.
But if the 22-year-old medical student is internally tortured about his decision to step outside the Dublin bubble for a while this year, it isn’t at all apparent.
Truth be told, the speedy wing-back didn’t think a whole pile about football all summer and only tuned into Dublin’s quest for history when they played Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
He used the GAA GO service to watch that game from Africa where he spent a period with the GOAL charity before embarking on his own travels and, in all, spent time in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.
Suffice to say if McCaffrey had been beating himself up about leaving the Dubs behind, nobody would have cared to listen anyway.
“I was on a train at one stage with no wifi for three days with two Chinese people who don’t know what Gaelic football is,” said McCaffrey. “Coming from a family that’s dominated by football, I had to find new topics of conversation. So it was great.”
No regrets then?
“Probably when I was making the decision initially, I thought about it long and hard and I probably second-guessed myself over a number of weeks at that stage,” said the Clontarf man. “But no, once I made the decision to go I was happy with it and I was happy with how the summer panned out as well.”
Club footballers and supporters of Dublin would give their right arm to be involved with this special team and may still find it difficult to appreciate why he left. The reality was it was less a football decision than a college one.
“This is the last summer that I really have to play with,” he said.
“That was probably the bigger factor, rather than football. It was college that dictated it more so.”
The thought lingers as to what even a half or three-quarters fit McCaffrey could offer Dublin tomorrow, particularly as an impact substitute. It would potentially save them dropping Ciaran Kilkenny into the half-back line like they did for the second-half of the Leinster final when Eric Lowndes went off.
And from the amount of time that McCaffrey spent working out with a pal while in Zambia, he actually returned home in pretty good shape.
“I actually probably came back in much better shape than I’d left, somehow,” he said, before ruling out rejoining the group.
“It wouldn’t be fair at all. And I wouldn’t be anywhere near in the shape that you should be in or I wouldn’t know the tactics that they’ve worked on all year. It just wasn’t an option.”
It speaks to the strength of Dublin’s panel that McCaffrey has hardly been missed. Dublin had the best defensive record in the Allianz League and save for a couple of testing moments in the Championship, particularly against Kerry, they have been relatively comfortable back there with John Small slotting in.
The player himself reckons it was always going to be more of an issue replacing Rory O’Carroll, their All Star full-back, who also emigrated indefinitely.
“Rory would have been, in my mind, undoubtedly a bigger loss than me,” he said. “He’s kind of a unique player and he’s so physically strong. He has the full-back position down to a tee.
“I think if anyone had come in and tried to copy what Rory did, it would have gone very, very badly for them.
“The three lads in the full-back line didn’t do that, they just kept playing their own game and it’s different and it’s equally effective.”
O’Carroll said himself earlier in the year that he didn’t know when he’d return to play for Dublin, if ever, though the prevailing hope was that he would be back for 2017.
“My understanding of it is that Rory isn’t available for next year but I’m not 100 per cent sure,” said McCaffrey.
“He went away for work, it was a very different situation to me.”
McCaffrey knows that tomorrow afternoon will be an emotional occasion as he watches his friends and former team-mates take their pot shot at history.
“I’m a very bad supporter, have been since I was a kid,” he admitted.
“I was walking in for the Kerry game thinking Kerry had been preparing for this for X number of weeks and I thought Kerry would win. I’ll probably end up thinking Mayo will win this one!
“It’s funny, it’s nearly easier when you’re out there and you can make a difference. You can run around and you’re playing football, which you know how to do. Whereas when you’re in the stand, you’re one of 82,000 voices shouting instructions onto the pitch. You’re living every play. That was an incredible game and it was incredibly different to watch. But it’s a good way to pass 70 minutes.”
Jack McCaffrey was speaking at the launch of the GOAL jersey day which takes place nationwide on October 14. For details see www.jerseyday.org
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved