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It's up to each player to keep up the fitness

Dublin's McCarthy feels like a kid again kicking ball against a wall with 2020 season up in the air

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WORKING SOLO: Dublin’s James McCarthy is promoting the AIG Show Your Skills Challenge in support of the 20x20 movement. AIG are calling on women and girls of all ages, all abilities and all sports to showcase their talents by entering the online competition at aig.ie/skills to be in with a chance to win a monthly €1,000 prize. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

WORKING SOLO: Dublin’s James McCarthy is promoting the AIG Show Your Skills Challenge in support of the 20x20 movement. AIG are calling on women and girls of all ages, all abilities and all sports to showcase their talents by entering the online competition at aig.ie/skills to be in with a chance to win a monthly €1,000 prize. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

WORKING SOLO: Dublin’s James McCarthy is promoting the AIG Show Your Skills Challenge in support of the 20x20 movement. AIG are calling on women and girls of all ages, all abilities and all sports to showcase their talents by entering the online competition at aig.ie/skills to be in with a chance to win a monthly €1,000 prize. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

There has been a familiar rhythm to Dublin's seasons of late and in any normal year, this would be the best time to be a Dublin footballer.

The League, with Dublin's now habitual late start and the slog built into the same months, is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

April/May then is when the squad is usually trimmed to championship length and they make the short migration down the Malahide Road, from the rustic environs of Innisfails to the relative cosiness of St. Clare's, their summer sanctuary just off Griffith Avenue.

Not that there's anything particularly salubrious about 'the bunker'.

But it's functional, it's home for the championship months and it's there that they feel the sun on their backs for the first time as they build and bond towards another All-Ireland tilt.

Now?

James McCarthy reckons he's lucky to have three different grass areas within a two kilometre radius of his house so he run alone and kick a ball to himself.

"You're nearly like a kid again going out to the back garden and kicking a football off the wall", he explains.

"That's the best of the skills (training) you're doing really and if I'm going to the park, I've two or three balls myself and try and kick a few scores.

Lucky

"I've turned into a bit of a DIY merchant at home and cleared out the garage and done the garden up. And I have a few weights in the garden and trying to keep my strength up that way."

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SHORT SEASON: Referee Seán Hurson with captains David Clifford of Kerry and James McCarthy of Dublin ahead of the Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in January. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SHORT SEASON: Referee Seán Hurson with captains David Clifford of Kerry and James McCarthy of Dublin ahead of the Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in January. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

SHORT SEASON: Referee Seán Hurson with captains David Clifford of Kerry and James McCarthy of Dublin ahead of the Allianz Football League Division 1 opener in January. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Though the walls of his house may seem an inch closer to one another each day he looks, McCarthy knows he's lucky.

He has spoken to Jack McCaffrey and Mick Fitzsimons, both of whom are part of the front line medical resistance against COVID-19 and each of whom are under real life pressures during this time.

On March 1, McCarthy turned 30 and this was set to be his 11th championship season with Dublin.

He is optimistic though that the national thirst for organised sport when the 'new normal' is reversed will be such that the championship could be the best attended and most anticipated of his career.

Certainly, it will be among the most nationally appreciated.

McCarthy predicts these things mostly, because the alternative - a year without an All-Ireland SFC - is too awful to fathom.

He has watched the big, global sporting events tumble with increasing dread but is thankful that the GAA is not married to any specific date or even a particular time frame to stage something.

Anything.

Until then, he is immersing himself in the most physically restrictive, mentally torturous training regime of his life.

"There are times you are going to lose motivation because that's natural," he admits.

"And when you do miss training for a day it's about getting back on the horse as soon as you can.

"It's normal to have those bad days.

"You just have to plan your weeks and days. That's the best way, I find but it is a big challenge and the longer you're away from the group the more you miss training."

There's a sturdy argument to be made that by the time whatever class of championship we have this year begins (if ever) Dessie Farrell will be the least prepared Dublin manager ever.

Appointed in December, shut down by March.

Wondering now, presumably, whether his first season in the role into which he was so hastily appointed will be a complete write-off.

On the evening they drew with Kerry in Farrell's first league game in charge, he revealed that collectively, the squad had trained just three times.

From then until the GAA announced its nationwide cessation of activity on Thursday, March 12, they had barely eight and a half weeks together.

Six of the most established members of the squad; Stephen Cluxton, Jonny Cooper, Cian O'Sullivan, Michael Darragh Macauley, Diarmuid Connolly and Con O'Callaghan, had yet to play a minute of football at the time sport in this country was discontinued.

And though there is no possibility of clarity on how a 2020 All-Ireland SFC might now look yet, it's unlikely to come with any significant lead-in time after the resumption of social normalities.

"It's a huge challenge", admits McCarthy, Farrell's captain during the part of the League already played in the absence of Stephen Cluxton.

"You're not training together as a team, you are not working on your combinations and your plans, so that is a huge challenge."

The 'new normal' doesn't make for sharp footballers.

And it may be that the teams who thrive most in any championship played this year will be the group of players who suffer the least wastage during these idle times.

"There is a lot of individual responsibility on guys to try tip away and stay fit, get fitter, get stronger", McCarthy explains.

"But it is a huge challenge, especially for younger guys on the team, trying to get combinations together is challenging.

"But", McCarthy adds, "the thing is everybody is in the same boat, so you just try hit the ground as best you can when we do get back."