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Sunday 19 August 2018

McCarthy excited as new wave of Dubs step up

In full flight: James McCarthy has high hopes for the emerging talent in Jim Gavin’s squad
In full flight: James McCarthy has high hopes for the emerging talent in Jim Gavin’s squad

It's a sign of James McCarthy's forward-focused nature that he is more aware of the changing décor of the Dublin football team than he is of his own importance as a load-bearing part of the structure.

"When you look back over the years," he says, highlighting how Jim Gavin has tweaked his starting 15 in every season of his spectacularly successful reign as manager.

"In '13 you would have had Jack (McCaffrey), Ciarán (Kilkenny), (Paul) Mannion coming in and very fortunate to get Brian Fenton and John Small in '15.

"There's others I'm missing … but we've been lucky, maybe every year we feed two or three guys in."

In this context, the prominence of Colm Basquel and Brian Howard in this year's league bodes well, assuming Gavin continues his annual attempts at freshening his team without diluting its quality.

Blue hero: James McCarthy at Croke Park for the launch of the Cúl Heroes 2018 collection, the official trading cards of the GAA/GPA
Blue hero: James McCarthy at Croke Park for the launch of the Cúl Heroes 2018 collection, the official trading cards of the GAA/GPA

"It makes you nervous," McCarthy adds, acutely aware that players with stature as big as his own have been forced to the margins over the past 18 months.

"But it's exciting as well because you see them getting better as time goes on and learning, they're mad for it, so that kind of gives you a good lift and you just hope they carry that form into the summer and have no worries about it.

"We are very fortunate the last few years with the group we have," he adds, "it's a very tight group and we get on well and push each other hard and these lads are like a new ray of every coming in.

"They just add to the mix and they are great fellas to have around. They are hungry for it, asking questions, they want to learn and get better and they are great guys to have around."

Last year's 'find' of the year was very clearly Con O'Callaghan, the Cuala dual phenomenon with the Midas touch.

Asked whether he was surprised at the magnitude of O'Callaghan's impact in his first season in the team, McCarthy is emphatic.

"No, no I wasn't," he insists.

"I knew straight away he was going to be good - very good.

"I knew it was only a matter of time before he was going to play, the way he carried himself, the way he played.

"You could see how good he was last year, he's exceptional."

Indeed, the only surprise O'Callaghan has given McCarthy was two weeks ago and the swiftness of his return to the footballer's ranks for the NFL1 final after Cuala's All-Ireland club SHC final triumph.

"That just shows the type of young lad that he is, he just wants to play.

"We were saying, 'Would you not take a week off, take a break?'

"No, he wanted to come back. It was great to see him. They got a great lift, the lads, when they saw him for the five minutes. It's Con O'Callaghan, everyone knows how good he is.

"I suppose the way he saw it was, he played the club final, might as well play another week and then take a bit of a breather then.

Breather

"Mind you, he was playing the hurling last week so I don't know what breather he's been taking but no, it was great to have him back.

"He's a great bit of stuff."

Mention to McCarthy, however, that he is one of just three players to start all six All-Ireland finals (including the 2016 draw and replay) Dublin have featured in since 2011 and he draws a complete blank.

"Yeah?! Who are they? Cluxton anyway?" he asks, clearly curious but puzzled before the ever-present triumvirate of Stephen Cluxton, Cian O'Sullivan and McCarthy is revealed to him.

"Not bad company," he says, eyebrow raised. "I'll take that."

"Are there only three?," he asks, still not completely convinced. "Paul Flynn and Diarmuid Connolly, no? Bernard?"

All three started last year's final in reserve, however, while Brogan also began the 2016 decider on the bench, elevating McCarthy into a very select group, membership of which he was very clearly unaware until yesterday.

Yet this, it would seem, is as inward as McCarthy can be convinced to look at his own career for the time being.

McCarthy's five All-Ireland medals?

His Mother has them in an undisclosed location.

It's not that McCarthy is unwilling to divulge. He just doesn't know where she put them.

"Dermot Deasy, who lives around the corner from me, he had his medal on the mantelpiece and it got robbed," McCarthy explains.

"Just shows … you'd be sick if that happened to you. I don't know where she has them but she has them."

They mean a lot?

"They do. Of course they do," he stresses.

"A lot of work goes into getting there. Try and get more and when I'm finished, take a look at them."

So he's never taken them out to compare them with the three his father John won in the '70's?

"No! Jesus!" McCarthy laughs openly at thought of it.

"We're not that type of family!" he concludes.

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