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Sunday 23 September 2018

Jack gets to savour a final at the finish

From one comeback kid to another ... McCaffrey hails Brogan as a Sky Blue legend for refusing to take the easy way out

FLYING FORM: Jack McCaffrey in action against Tyrone during Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Football final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile
FLYING FORM: Jack McCaffrey in action against Tyrone during Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC Football final at Croke Park. Pics: Sportsfile

Jack McCaffrey and Bernard Brogan. Two special footballers. Two victims of the cruciate curse.

McCaffrey had the good luck (if you'd call it that) to rupture his ACL in last year's All-Ireland final, giving him a long enough window of opportunity to get back for the real business of Championship 2018.

And how: two RTÉ Man of the Match awards, in the semi-final and final, to crown his comeback.

Brogan's misfortune was to wreck his knee in February. And to have turned 34 in April. Too little time for a player with less time to begin with.

So while McCaffrey was blazing a trail in either half against Tyrone on Sunday, Brogan was not part of the match-day 26. While Jack wore No 7, Bernard had No 27 on his back.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Jack McCaffrey celebrates with his father Noel following the All-Ireland Football Final win over Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
FAMILY AFFAIR: Jack McCaffrey celebrates with his father Noel following the All-Ireland Football Final win over Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

But according to his comrade-in-recovery, this makes him even more of a Sky Blue icon.

"He made it, in fairness to him, he got back," says McCaffrey, alluding to Brogan's against-the-odds recovery to feature as a late blood-sub against Roscommon a month ago.

"He just ran out of time unfortunately. If the All-Ireland final had been on the weekend it traditionally is, he would have had another two weeks of football under him and he could have been in the mix.

Legend

"But I was chatting to Bernard yesterday and, for me, Bernard Brogan made the transition from an excellent Dublin footballer to a Dublin legend over the last season because he was given the easy out.

"A man who has won absolutely everything, such a silky footballer, such a once-in-a-generation player, and to have an injury happen at his age and the point that he's at in his life, children and his business and everything; no one would have begrudged him if he said, 'I'm off'.

"But to have him around the dressing-room ... over the last week maybe he realised that he'd just run out of grass but he was a selfless bloke, he was chatting to the younger lads. I have massive respect for him already but I absolutely love that man now," he concludes. "He's set such a standard now for the rest of us to live up to."

As a newly qualified doctor with first-hand experience of major knee surgery, McCaffrey has a good handle on the sacrifices Brogan made.

"He would have had a slightly different operation to mine with a view to getting back quicker. A different technique. He gave himself every chance and I remember the first time seeing him running - I couldn't walk at that point in my recovery and he was running up and down.

"He couldn't walk either at that point but he was still out there with boots on. So, look, I'm not going to speak for Bernard, I can only see that it's been incredibly tough for him but he's done a remarkable job ... and I hope he's around for a couple more years."

Most of this team will be around for that, and longer. Nine of Dublin's All-Ireland '15' are aged 25 or under.

"There were five lads who started that were born in '93 and played football together growing up," he explains.

Pride

"Myself, Paul Mannion, John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny. That's something that I take immense pride in, because we were coached by Dessie Farrell. My father (Noel) was involved as well. When you take a little step back, it's kind of great to be able to see his fingerprints on a lot of what has gone on."

Speaking of dad, himself an All Star defender in his day, Jack admits that McCaffrey Snr was "a bag of nerves" in the days beforehand.

"If anyone wasn't underestimating Tyrone it was the McCaffrey household. He has just been all over the place," his son admits.

"Basically what I was hearing every day was that this was this Dublin team's biggest ever challenge. And I agree with him.

"The last time I remember coming into a game as hot (favourites) as that was Donegal in 2014 when everyone was saying, 'Jesus, this team is unbeatable.' It's so, so dangerous. So I think it was a real credit to the group this year that even though all of that was going on, we were on the money."

Every All-Ireland, he continues, brings a "different dynamic to it. And this year, I finished training on Tuesday and I got a call from Dad asking did I get hurt, was I fine, was I all right?

"I think he was so relieved and happy that I just lasted the game. And obviously that the result fell the way it did ... he's the first man I look for as soon as the final whistle blows. I've photos with him after every All-Ireland final we've won."

Incredible

McCaffrey then reminds his audience that, at the fourth time of asking, Sunday was "the first time I've been on the pitch when the final whistle blew in an All-Ireland final. Incredible. It was so satisfying, such a relief.

"Going out, it wasn't about getting forward and kicking scores. I just wanted to work as hard as I possibly could.

"For me, you see Cian (O'Sullivan) go off injured early on. The lads got me out of jail last year and, you know, pulled me over the line when I couldn't go out and do it myself. To be able to do that for a teammate this year was really, really special."

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