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Thursday 15 November 2018

'It's McCaffrey, I'll go at him, he can't tackle'

TECHNIQUE: Jack McCaffrey tackles Kieran McGeary. Pic: Sportsfile
TECHNIQUE: Jack McCaffrey tackles Kieran McGeary. Pic: Sportsfile

Jack McCaffrey has an admission to make. He used to be a "horrific tackler". Not in the X-rated sense: he simply wasn't very good at it.

They're not saying that now. Not after his injury-time stripping of the ball from Mattie Donnelly, a man who usually revels in contact.

And not after a post-cruciate comeback campaign that has seen Dublin's most lethal counter-attacking weapon morph into a superb defender to go with the brilliant footballer and Olympian sprinter he always was.

On Sunday, McCaffrey "figured out I'm actually a defender as opposed to some loose attacking player. I left the shooting boots at home unfortunately," he explains, modestly overlooking his first-half point.

"I really enjoyed it and to get a turnover in the injury-time period of an All-Ireland final and to feel the momentum shift around that was something I haven't experienced before. It gave me immense satisfaction. I'd have to say that's one of the best performances that I've ever put in."

MASTER: Jonny Cooper tackles Ronan McNamee. Pic: Sportsfile
MASTER: Jonny Cooper tackles Ronan McNamee. Pic: Sportsfile

But does he feel he has become a better defender?

"To be honest, I never felt I was a particularly bad defender. It's something that the narrative with me has been that I'm one of Dublin's attacking weapons and can do my defensive duties but maybe don't excel in them as much as other lads.

Man-marking

"And I still probably wouldn't be man-marking guys like Jonny Cooper or Philly McMahon. It's something I need to improve on.

"Dec Darcy is our defenders coach and the discipline in getting in tackles and sometimes not seeking contact, and to be able to turn over a player like Mattie Donnelly, one of Tyrone's key massive runners and not an easy man to tackle by any stretch of the imagination ... that, for me, was an exceptional high to get towards the end of the game.

"I do think I've improved on it. I've improved on a lot of things. I think as a group we're always kind of improving. It is an area I can still get bett er at but I think - well, I hope - that at this point people are starting to figure out that I'm not just there to go the other way. I can hold my own."

Suffice to say he got a huge buzz from that injury-time cameo.

"It's great to turn a perceived weakness into a strength," he expands. "I've seen it in games over the last number of years, teams will get the ball and can see that I'm eyeing them up and, 'Oh, it's McCaffrey, I'll just go at him, he can't tackle.' To be able to invite that on and then turn them over is great.

"Similar with kickouts or whatever, I'd probably be targeted a bit but I'm holding my own this year.

"I've been around five or six years at this point. It's not enough to just want to keep playing to your strengths; you've to take the other side of things and improve them.

"I got very lucky after that turnover, I just hoofed the ball out and it went straight to Cormac Costello, so that was awesome all right. It could have gone very badly."

Target

Probe further and he readily admits that opponents used to target him. "Yeah, 100 percent," he says. "You can hear lads talking about it on the pitch. Like, they get the ball, they are, 'go on, go at him, go at him' ...

"Now, not so much any more, but probably when I was a bit younger and a bit more naive."

He then admits: "I was a horrific tackler. I was weak, small enough. Relying on my pace to recover when I lost men or whatever.

"You know, we have some of the best tacklers in the country. You look at Jonny Cooper and his technique is incredible. It's not just as simple as running into a fella with the ball - or trying to get in the way. It was something I wasn't very good at, and I'd like to think I've got significantly better at it."

Just ask Mattie Donnelly.

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