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This is way club games should be played

Lucan skipper McCaffrey happy with championship progress

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Johnny McCaffrey of Lucan Sarsfields celebrates after the Dublin SHC quarterfinal win over Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park

Johnny McCaffrey of Lucan Sarsfields celebrates after the Dublin SHC quarterfinal win over Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park

SPORTSFILE

Johnny McCaffrey of Lucan Sarsfields celebrates after the Dublin SHC quarterfinal win over Kilmacud Crokes at Parnell Park

For Johnny McCaffrey, the debate is over.

In the former Dublin captain's estimation, the case for a split GAA calendar is proven by the sheer simplicity and flow of this year's club championships, regardless of the bizarre circumstances in which they've been played.

"Playing it all in one go, clean through and not having a big long break and playing group games four months apart - it makes the championship ten times better," says McCaffrey

"It's definitely worth trying again next year."

On Sunday, McCaffrey inspired Lucan Sarsfields to a quarter-final victory over Kilmacud Crokes in Parnell Park, the shock result of the round and the Dublin senior hurling championship so far.

Even the absence of supporters didn't dull the sensation of victory in the moments after the final whistle.

"Which is kind of surprising," McCaffrey admits.

"The only noise in the ground on Sunday were the subs, who were very vocal all through the game.

"We know there's friends and family at home raging that they couldn't go, all watching on 'Dubs TV'. But it was nice just to enjoy it with players and management, everyone who has contributed."

This, McCaffrey notes, has been the "purest" championship in which he has competed and for that reason, one of the most enjoyable.

Cuala will be Lucan's fifth championship game since July 19th, with no more than two weeks break between them and no fewer than 10 days.

The benefits are obvious.

"Now you can build momentum," he explains, "you can find out different things about your team. You have a consistent length of time between matches to prepare.

"We felt like we got better in every game we played.

"There was that continuity, the way it should be."

"All the county lads have been training with us since June. We'd usually never have them that long. And there's nobody going away on 'J1s' or there's nobody heading off for two or three weeks.

"So you're getting everyone for training every night, which is massive. This will be our fifth game in the space of six or seven weeks, which is unheard of - with all your players.

"You're gelling together. And it feels like a proper championship."

McCaffrey, Dublin captain when they won the Leinster title in 2013, has been retired from the inter-county scene for over a year now but he can see the benefits of the current arrangement on those who are still part of Mattie Kenny's squad.

"The toing and froing between club and county at certain times of year is very hard on a player," he says.

"It's very draining. And it can be very stressful being pulled in different directions. You can have county managers giving out you're with the club and vice versa.This season, there's none of that.

"And you know there's no pressure coming from the county set-up on those players when they're with the club.

"It makes it clearer for everybody. There's no confusion. Players aren't being asked to make decisions. Everyone knows where they stand.

"Usually," McCaffrey observes, "as a county player, you're trying to please everybody but you end up pleasing nobody."

Lucan were a 5/1 shot before Sunday but fully merited their crack at champions Cuala in two weeks' time for a spot in what would be just the second Dublin SHC final in the club's history.

By his own estimation, Lucan "hadn't been great" in their group victories over Ballinteer and St Oliver Plunkett's/ER, while their draw with St Vincent's was cast in a less complimentary light following the Marino side's 10-point defeat to Ballyboden on Saturday afternoon.

The same 'Boden team who lost to Kilmacud by all of 14 points, just five weeks ago.

"We knew nobody was giving us a chance. That suited us," McCaffrey reckons. We were underdogs. I think we were four or five-to-one. That just shows that people didn't think we were good enough.

"But we knew going in we had a chance and we knew ourselves what we were capable of. And thankfully, we did that."

All of which if far removed from that night in May when John Horan sombrely informed the nation via The Sunday Game that there would be no GAA matches played while social distancing was still in place.

McCaffrey admits now that in that moment, he "had the whole year written off" in his head.

"It would have been a disaster. Even when we started to do a bit of training and started to do a bit of contact, you were still thinking 'how long will this last?'

"And even now," McCaffrey adds, "with cases in clubs and counties locked down, you just don't know what's around the corner."