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Sunday 22 July 2018

Jack's back - fitter and even faster

McCaffrey must surely be worth a start as he leaves cruciate woe in his wake

FLYING FORM: Jack McCaffrey of Dublin in action during the Leinster final at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE
FLYING FORM: Jack McCaffrey of Dublin in action during the Leinster final at Croke Park. Photo: SPORTSFILE

The words carried a prophetic ring. "McCaffrey's coming on - that's trouble for Laois," said Colm O'Rourke as the RTÉ camera latched on to the man in the No 21 jersey.

Not just trouble for Laois: danger for everyone.

Jack McCaffrey had already returned to the Dublin match-day fold, appearing as a half-time sub against Longford, but Sunday's Leinster SFC decider was a far more emphatic statement of intent.

So much so that it's hard to envisage how Jim Gavin can leave the 2015 Footballer of the Year off his starting team for their Super 8s opener against Donegal on July 14/15.

The only wonder about Sunday's swashbuckling second-half cameo is that McCaffrey didn't crown it with a goal. Twice he created chances for himself out of nothing; twice he was denied by Graham Brody and then his replacement Eoghan Keogh.

As the 'Dart from Clontarf' took off on the explosive run that led to his first chance, he looked even faster than before.

Intent

And this from a player who ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament last September 17 and underwent major reconstructive knee surgery exactly a month later.

Yet here he was, just over nine months on from the injury, and eight months post-op, leaving a trail of Laois markers for dead.

From the first minute of the second-half, we caught a glimpse of McCaffrey's jet-heeled intent. Near the Cusack touchline he played a forward pass to Con O'Callaghan and then took off in search of a return pass that never came. He had devoured 30 metres in a flash; the move ended in a point.

His first goal chance, on 44 minutes, was even more revealing.

Such is McCaffrey's skill-set that he seems to travel as fast with the ball as without it. Here, gathering a pass from Jonny Cooper, he sniffed an opportunity where none seemed to exist. A check of the RTÉ tape shows he travelled over 40 metres in barely six seconds, leaving Niall Donoher and then Laois sweeper Damien O'Connor flailing in his wake. All this while managing two hops, two solos and veering the angle of his run.

Brody's quick reflexes denied a Goal of the Season contender as a prelude to McCaffrey failing to control the rebound.

"Oh my word - what a sequence!" purred Marty Morrissey, while co-commentator Dessie Dolan remarked: "I think he wants to get in the next day from the start!"

Jack's back, for sure, but it wasn't just that McCaffrey has lost none of his defence-shredding dynamism from deep; it was also the controlled aggression of his tackling.

In the 38th minute he left Evan O'Carroll in a heap with a shoulder whose legality was queried by the RTE commentators, but not by the man who counted, referee Barry Cassidy.

Eleven minutes later came another even more eye-catching example as McCaffrey (six foot tall and weighing 12st 10lb) held up Donie Kingston (6ft 4, 15st 5lb). First McCaffrey's tigerish attention forced the Laois powerhouse to the ground, where he briefly dropped possession.

When he got back to his feet, and bodies piled in, McCaffrey again checked Kingston's progress and forced him into a despairing hand pass. Eventually the pinball ended with a disputed free out.

In an interview last February, McCaffrey stressed that he wanted to avoid the "bogey man" of coming back too early and setting himself back to square one.

Rush

"I want the leg to be 100 per cent when I do go back, and I'd rather take two years to get there than rush it," he cautioned. What Sunday underlined is that the only thing in a rush is McCaffrey himself.

He looks ready to start and with John Small facing a one-match ban and Cian O'Sullivan rested against Laois after picking up a knock, he leads the queue of back-up defenders chasing a single-digit jersey.

Watch out Donegal...

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