McCarthy sees model danger
Dub under no illusions about Wexford test after two years of lucky escapes
IF James McCarthy looked steely-eyed and locked in a vortex of concentration after his brilliant solo goal against Wexford in last year's Leinster final, it's only because the Ballymun man was in a state of mild shock.
"I've no memories at all," he told the Herald of what should really be his most memorable contribution to Dublin's crowning season.
"It was just one of those things that happened. I was delighted to get the goal but I don't think it'll be happening again on Sunday."
The score illustrated the great James McCarthy contradiction. While never looking like he is travelling flat-out, he still glided through and away from Wexford's would-be stoppers.
"It just opened up for me," he recalls. "I didn't ever think I'd get in that far. I thought I'd get in a few yards and then pop it off to Berno or something. But I just kept going ... I can't really remember it, to be honest."
As he strode out to resume his wing-back spot, Alan Brogan offered him congratulations in the form of an outstretched hand, but McCarthy glanced down and brushed straight past his team-mate, ignoring the invitation.
"I just thought it wasn't right," he laughed. "I think I just got a bit of a shock at the time."
He might not have visualised it in the run-up to the match but McCarthy's score was utterly crucial and the one which broke Wexford's staunch resistance.
Until then, they had been competitive and arguably better than Dublin, but the charitable donation of an own goal from Graeme Molloy after a mix-up with 'keeper Anthony Masterson shifted the momentum back to the Dubs.
"The last two years, they should have beaten us -- that's being honest about it," says McCarthy, incorporating the 2010 extra-time victory over the same opposition, a match he started in reserve.
"We got very lucky last year with that goal that brought us back into the game. So we're under no illusions as to how good they're going to be.
"We were under serious pressure. Until we got the goal, we weren't playing well at all. We just stuck at it and kind of got through it. We won the game without playing well and I think that's probably a decent sign.
"We didn't play our best football until after that."
By general consensus, Dublin have already played better this year in Leinster than they did in provincial excursions at any stage last year, Louth's malaise a month ago notwithstanding.
McCarthy says the injection of fresh blood has given new impetus to the group and, he adds, forced every All-Ireland medallist to scrap to maintain their starting status.
"I think with the under-21 lads coming in, it gave the camp a good lift as well," he explains. "Competition, the way it is now, means nobody can afford to be taking things handy.
"It's brought everyone on a bit and added a bit of change. That helped us for the Louth game. We were happy enough with how we played that day, even though Louth probably wouldn't be too happy with how they played.
"They're a lot better than they showed that day but all we can do is do our best."
McCarthy has an All-Ireland U21 medal from 2010, but didn't quite establish himself in Pat Gilroy's starting summer plans until last season, when he was an ever-present in the Dublin defence during their voyage to Sam Maguire.
This crop, he reckons, could have a more immediate say.
"They're very good players," he notes. "They're fitting in seamlessly and they're putting serious pressure on the lads that are already there. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw one or two of them coming on or even starting at some stage this summer.
"Initially, I came in like the lads: flying and mad to make an impression. But physically, I found first that I was getting knocked back but that just comes with time. You get used it."
McCarthy will have his hands full on Sunday. Not alone do Wexford possess forwards with the skill and wherewithal to score prolifically, they have a stack of others from further out who are more than willing and capable of chipping in.
"They have a lot of danger men," he notes, pointing to one of his opposite numbers in defence as a prime recent example. "They have Adrian Flynn coming from the half-back line.
"I don't think I've ever seen a half-back kick five points in Croke Park like he did against Longford.
"And some of the scores he was kicking, it was incredible. They have good backs and a strong midfield so we just have to be on top of our game and work hard."