‘I’m always embarrassed going back to Clontarf about how rarely I’m there’

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

AS THE DEMANDS of the inter-county game continues to increase, it’s the clubs who inevitably suffer and see little of their star players during the season.

Apart from a round or two of club championship in April and the odd league game during the year, most players are not released to the clubs until their county’s interest in the All-Ireland is over. 

In an era where Dublin cast a long shadow over the football championship, it’s generally September before the clubs in the capital are granted exclusive access to their players. 

Jack McCaffrey says he’d like to spend more time with Clontarf, but acknowledges there’s not much that can be done unless there’s an improvement to the overall fixtures calendar.

“I’m always embarrassed going back to Clontarf about how rarely I’m there and how little I give back to a club that has given me so much,” he says.

“I think there’s still a bit of work to be done on the fixtures side of things, being fair to everybody. The club is the real strong point of the GAA. I think there is a bit more we can do for it. Definitely.” 

Jack McCaffrey, the PwC GAA / GPA Player of the Month, at the launch of the PwC All-Star App

Source: Piaras Ó Mídheach/SPORTSFILE

McCaffrey’s Clontarf face St Oliver Plunkett’s/Eoghan Ruadh in the Dublin SFC relegation semi-final this weekend, a game that will pit him against county team-mate Bernard Brogan. 

Despite the trophies they’ve lifted together with the Sky Blues, friendships go out the window once they cross the white lines. 

“There’s a lot of lads from (Kilmacud) Crokes, Ballymun (Kickhams), trying to win the championship – that’s an entirely different end of the spectrum. Plunkett’s have Bernard, Alan (Brogan), Niall Walsh and Ross McConnell who have played for Dublin.

“You don’t go out there and chat to lads, your friends, when you’re playing against them. Equally at county level, I’d be friends with a lot of lads from other counties but once you cross the white lines to play against each other, it’s no-holes-barred.”

Both McCaffrey and Brogan make successful returns from ACL surgery this season. The wing-back suffered his injury last September and made his comeback during the Leinster championship, while Brogan had surgery on his cruciate in February and returned to competitive action in August. 

“He (Brogan) had a couple of issues to bounce towards me at the start, but the thing about cruciates, no more than any other injury, there’s some things that would work for me and wouldn’t work for him and vice versa,” explains McCaffrey.

“He sought advice from many other people and he was leaving no stone unturned, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to be constantly looking at someone else.”

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Jack McCaffrey goes down with a torn ACL in the 2017 All-Ireland final

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A torn ACL has become common in all levels of sport and is usually a non-contact injury.

Has McCaffrey, who currently works as part of the pediatric team in Drogheda hospital Lady of Lourdes, any theory as to why it occurs?

“It’s one of those things. The way it was described to me is that your ACL is like an air-bag and you hope you never have to use it, and if you do, it just ruptures and protects everything else around it.

“You see some lads, like myself, I went down, close to tears, couldn’t run, and you see other lads who stay playing for a number of weeks without knowing it’s ruptured.”

His recovery was a major success and in addition to winning a fourth All-Ireland medal and man-of-the-match in both the semi-final and final, the wing-back was nominated for Footballer of the Year alongside team-mates Ciaran Kilkenny and Brian Fenton.  

Such an accolade was the furthest thing from his thoughts on those long nights rehabbing his injury last winter.

“It didn’t even enter my mind. These kind of nominations aren’t something you ever think about. 

“You don’t go out thinking, if I play well here this might happen. You go out trying to do your best for the team, and anything that comes after that, it’s a bonus.

“It’s a massive compliment to be paid, but at the end of the day it’s way, way behind winning an All-Ireland in terms of a priority.

“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into getting onto the Dublin team, onto the starting 15 and then performing. I’d never want to give the impression that anyone just turns up and just turns it on, because that doesn’t happen.

“There were very few fun moments coming back from the cruciate injury. It was a slog. But what I always refer to like that, is when you’re out playing football with your friends, it’s the definition of fun.

“It’s literally what you would have done as a kid, hanging out. You go out and just kick a ball around. I think that’s something that we as a group have never really lost sight of, and are conscious of enjoying our time in Dublin jerseys.

The 24-year-old scooped the big award in 2015 but feels this time it’s between Kilkenny and Fenton.

“I don’t think I’m in the running. It’s a massive honour to be nominated, but I think that award is between the two lads, and fairly justifiably so. May the best man win.”

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