McCaffrey: 'We don't care what anyone else thinks. We're doing this for ourselves'
WRITING in his excellent column for gaa.ie after the Leinster hurling final, Donal Óg Cusack made an interesting point about Dublin and its place in the great hurling scheme of things.
"Hurling," he wrote, "needs for the rest of us to stop saying that the traditional hurling county played badly any time Dublin beat them.
"It needs for us to stop saying, 'Sure it's good for hurling anyway that they won'. Hurling needs for the rest of us to hate Dublin for being so good. Hurling needs a big, swaggering Dublin team with big, recognisable personalities.
"Hurling needs for the rest of us to know that Dublin IS a traditional hurling county and they've worked harder than anybody to revive that tradition."
For context, it's pertinent to point out that the piece was penned and published long before it transpired that it would be Cusack's own county, Cork, who would be the latest to attempt to prevent Dublin from following this most unlikely of odysseys, but the point was well made.
Because there is another prize for Dublin in Croke Park tomorrow, a subliminal reward that they probably don't realise or even care about and won't lose a second thought to, but it's there nonetheless: the permanent changing of opinions amongst the sport's nobility.
We've seen plenty of it. From the 'they're great athletes' 'compliment' routinely leaned on whenever Dublin turn over one of the sport's elite, replete with the unsaid inference that their hurling isn't quite to the taste of the aristocracy, to the deduction that their lack of 'tradition' will always count against teams from the capital in matters of hurling dispute.
It's there. It exists. And only now, after beating Kilkenny in a Leinster Championship match and winning a provincial title are heads slowing turning.
"I think they'd look at us in a different light now," reckons captain Johnny McCaffrey. "But we can't think about what they think. We just concentrate on ourselves. We're not interested in what people say or think about us because we know where that's got us before - nowhere. We look after ourselves."
McCaffrey, one of the first to arrive on the new wave of Dublin hurlers, is probably as entitled to feel part of the game's elite as any. He has lifted Leinster minor, under-21 and senior trophies as Dublin captain.
That last one, the senior success, was just a little bit special though. Not only did Dublin finally step out from the shadow of Kilkenny in Leinster, they escaped the shade of their own county's footballers.
It was all there. Winning Leinster. Celebrating with the Hill. The stuff of fantasy.
"It's what you dream of really when you're a Dub," McCaffrey admits now. "Lifting a trophy and going down to the Hill. It's a special time, you're trying to soak it up. It was a massive feeling to go around the rest of the stadium as well."
He's not inclined to turn his nose up at all this extra support either, whether they arrive to Croke Park tomorrow by bandwagon or otherwise.
"Any team that wins well, you'll have that," he points out. "For Limerick, there was 40,000 at their Munster final recently but how many were at their league final in April.
"When a team goes well you're always going to have supporters come see you. We welcome that. The support the last day in Croke Park was immense. It felt like there was way more because the atmosphere was so good."
It helps, of course, that Dublin are in neither bonus territory nor unchartered waters. As Leinster champions, there is a certain amount expected of them. As Dublin hurlers, they expect even more from themselves.
And the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final, when they arrived in to face Tipperary without a cluster of their top hurlers, yet managed to make life difficult for the Premier county, provides them with a point of reference.
"It was a totally new thing getting to the semi-final two years ago," McCaffrey reflects. "It was a great experience. Two years ago we were missing a few key lads but we were going in to try to contain Tipp.
"But we were hopeful of winning. Tipp were on such an upward curve at the time that it was going to take an unbelievable performance to win. I think we're more in control of ourselves and more in control of what we do."
Of Cork, McCaffrey has noticed "they're playing a lot more direct than what they were doing a few years ago," adding: "They're trying to get fast ball into their forwards, who have great pace and are looking to take on their men at every opportunity.
"Their backs mark very tight," he adds, "and give no space to the opposition forwards. I expect an open game of hurling with both teams looking to play off the front foot all the time."
So far this year, McCaffrey has raised - to varying heights - the Walsh Cup, the Division 1B trophy and the Bob O'Keeffe Cup. Can, he visualise making it a fourth before the year is out?
"Not at the moment," he insists. "There's a long way to go and we're just trying to get ourselves ready for the next day. If you're looking too far ahead, you're taking the eye off the ball."