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Tuesday 28 March 2017

DUB VISION FOR JACK

McCaffrey out of Africa and craving chance of a Sky Blue comeback

Jack McCaffrey of UCD at the draw for the independent.ie GAA Higher Education Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup launches at Croke Park. Pic: Tony Gavin
Jack McCaffrey of UCD at the draw for the independent.ie GAA Higher Education Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cup launches at Croke Park. Pic: Tony Gavin

There has been no contact yet from Jim Gavin, but Jack McCaffrey doesn't make this sound like a cause for alarm.

The 2015 Footballer of the Year, the absentee All Star when Dublin defended their All-Ireland SFC crown, is putting his hand up for inclusion when Gavin reassembles a squad in pursuit of three-in-a-row.

Last summer he swapped his Sky Blue No 7 jersey for voluntary hospital work while travelling through swathes of the African continent. Next year, though, will be spent much closer to home.

"I'm going to be in Dublin playing football, for somebody, this summer so I'd love to get back in," he confirmed, speaking at yesterday's Croke Park launch of the Independent.ie Sigerson and Fitzgibbon Cups.

SAVOUR

If, for some reason, the Dublin boss doesn't come calling, McCaffrey will be all Clontarf's to savour. But who honestly expects that to happen?

"I haven't (talked to Gavin) and I'm not sure what the procedure is. Obviously this year is different with everything shifted two weeks," he said, alluding to Dublin's replay-extended campaign.

"I've been playing away with the club. And I think the lads are going on their holiday later than they usually would. No, I'm just doing my own thing with UCD now."

Any special pre-season gym programme?

"I'm doing my own stuff but I haven't got any programme, as such."

If and when his recall happens, does he fear being off the pace initially?

"I hope not," he ventured. "We are here at the Sigerson launch and you are playing away there with pretty much all the same lads. Everyone tends to be off the pace at the start of the year, but I hope not."

Raw pace, of course, has never been an issue for McCaffrey. When you marry his footballing pedigree (as the son of Noel, a former Dublin senior and 1988 All Star centre-back) with his renowned turbo acceleration, you are left with arguably the most dynamic counter-attacker in the business.

But, in his absence this year, John Small made a relatively seamless transition into the Dublin half-back line. Moreover, as the 2013 Young Footballer of the Year discovered during a difficult 2014, there are no guarantees of starting tenure on Team Jim.

So this fifth year medical student knows the prognosis: he will be judged on 2017 form graphs, not historic ones. That said, McCaffrey has absolutely no regrets about his decision to opt off the Dublin squad in early March, shortly after skippering UCD to their first Sigerson title in 20 years.

While unsure if taking a year out will aid career longevity, he stressed: "I really enjoyed it anyway. I'm glad I did it. I wouldn't be worried about the burnout side of things and all that stuff. I haven't really given it all that much thought.

"It probably would stand to you later down the line, particularly for us lads who came in very early, 18 or 19, and maybe didn't have the two or three years of relaxing between minor and senior that a lot of players get. Yeah, hopefully it does turn out to be a good thing."

This year's example of his long-time colleague through the ranks, Paul Mannion, confirms that you can "get back up to it" after a year away.

"There are countless examples of people, even through injury, who have been forced to take seasons off and that. I definitely don't think it's going to be a bad thing. I am not sure if it will be a massively good thing either," he muses.

As Dublin embarked on their trademark cruise through Leinster, McCaffrey spent 11 weeks in Africa. "I went to Ethiopia with GOAL and I was in the south of Zambia mostly, working in a hospital, and then we travelled through Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania," he recounted.

He was back in the capital as his former/future team-mates survived that epic semi-final encounter with Kerry. For that and the two-game joust with Mayo, he embraced a very different, less pressurised role: that of Jack the fan.

"The first All-Ireland final was one of the most bizarre games of football I've ever seen. It was kind of hard to enjoy, just because it was so weird. And obviously I was terrified that Dublin were going to lose," he admitted.

"But then the second final was a cracking game. And obviously the Kerry semi-final was unbelievable."

RELISHED

The 23-year-old has relished his recent game time with Clontarf, both hurling with the Junior E team ("I'm not very good unfortunately, but it's great craic") and their senior footballers.

"Just finished up there with the club. We won the Division 2 play-offs, so promoted to Division 1 which is great for Clontarf. The lads won the minor championship as well. I've exams done as well, so kicking back and relaxing 'til Christmas."

The calm before the comeback ...

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