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Monday 23 July 2018

Jack on track but he won't set any date ...

McCaffrey relives a day of joy tinged with pain

Five-year-old Saoirse Moore joined Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey and Irish and Leinster rugby forward Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Miles in Irishtown Stadium yesterday. The popular annual fundraiser, which is now in its 36th year, will be staged at more 130 locations nationwide over the Christmas and New Year period. To find your local GOAL Mile, visit www.goalglobal.org Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Five-year-old Saoirse Moore joined Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey and Irish and Leinster rugby forward Jamie Heaslip at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Miles in Irishtown Stadium yesterday. The popular annual fundraiser, which is now in its 36th year, will be staged at more 130 locations nationwide over the Christmas and New Year period. To find your local GOAL Mile, visit www.goalglobal.org Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

In one respect, it was another typical All-Ireland final for Jack McCaffrey. He has started three senior deciders - and, curiously, failed to finish any of them.

And yet it was so different. Far more abbreviated and palpably more traumatic than 2013 (when he was subbed at half-time) or 2015 (when the after-effects of food poisoning meant his usually purring engine ran out of fuel on 53 minutes).

But it could have been worse, reasons Jack, almost three months on since he ruptured the cruciate ligament in his left knee - and two months on from reconstructive ACL surgery.

Why? Dublin won. Victory is the ultimate painkiller.

All going well and without any major setbacks along the long rehab route, the 2015 Footballer of the Year may be fit and available for the start of Dublin's Leinster SFC defence, against Offaly or Wicklow, on the last weekend in May.

Or he may not.

"I'm pretty loath to try and set a date because I'll only end up missing it, so I'm taking it in little steps. It seems like it (late May) will be in or around the right date, but I'm not sure," was as near as he came to a comeback prediction, speaking yesterday at the launch of this year's GOAL Miles.

For the record, McCaffrey is hoping to complete the charity run/walk in "some shape or form." His post-surgical recovery is going well but it's all about short-term goals: "Initially that was fully straightening the leg, then it was getting off crutches. So I'm kind of excited about the next few months."

Disaster

The final year UCD medical student, now 24, had entered this year's Mayo showdown in the form of his life. Then, within a matter of minutes, disaster.

"I've watched it back a lot of times," he relates. "It's incredibly innocuous. I was going in a straight line; I tried to turn ever so slightly. It's a movement I've done thousands of times before and hopefully will do thousands of times again but, I don't know, the knee just didn't fancy it that day.

"It was really bad for about 30 seconds - it was very, very sore," he confirms. "By the time the medics came on and I got a drink of water it had gotten quite a bit better."

But the inevitable was close at hand; he tried to play on for a few minutes if only because he knew his replacement, Paul Flynn, had to get warmed up.

"I tried to stand in the corner and make someone come and mark me, which they declined to do! So then I thought I could get on the ball but the lads recognised passing me the ball would not have been beneficial."

Thus, Jack the All Star elect became Jack the spectator.

"It was very good that I'd something I could focus in on because as soon as you get some pain in the knee - it was quite bad initially - you're thinking, 'Right, this is worst case scenario' but you can focus straight into the game, next ball ...

"Half-time, I threw myself into the analysis inside for five or ten minutes but you do end up on your own for a while and that's when it started hitting me and you start getting a bit upset and the second half kicks off.

"Between that and the celebrations, it kept the reality of the situation at bay for a little while. So I was glad of that."

History

But did he feel detached from this moment of three-in-a-row history? "No - sure that's three All-Irelands and I haven't finished on the pitch for any of them. So I suppose I don't know any different!" he replies.

But, on a more reflective note, he adds: "The parade around Croke Park before the final is my favourite place in the world; you can take stock of where you are, have a smile and just really look forward to it.

"And, for within 240 seconds, that to come crashing down ... it was very, very disappointing personally. But it would have been a lot, lot worse if we lost so I was happy enough with that."

Recounting his previous truncated All-Irelands, he doesn't mince his words. The first, Mayo in 2013? "I got roasted by Kevin McLoughlin."

Kerry in 2015? "I got food poisoning in around the Thursday; I couldn't keep any food or water down so I got a drip to stay hydrated," he recalls.

"But that was actually great at the time because it completely distracted from the build-up to a final ... all you were worried about is 'Am I going to be okay?' You're no thinking about the occasion itself. And then thankfully I pulled through and performed okay for the 50 minutes that I lasted."

A month to the day after this year's final, Ray Moran operated on McCaffrey's knee. All of Dublin hopes he'll return, as jet-heeled as ever, next summer.

Just a week after this year's final came the happiest of postscripts, when his sister Sarah came off the bench to score a brace of late goals and seal elusive victory for Dublin in the All-Ireland senior ladies final.

"It was unbelievable. It was actually fantastic, because Sarah had an awful summer this year in terms of picking up injuries ... it was kind of touch and go whether she'd be fit to feature at all in the final."

If one McCaffrey can battle back, why not another?

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