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Big shock as Jack McCaffrey steps away from Dublin panel

If this is the end of the 26-year-old in the Dublin jersey, it’s been one hell of a ride.

DESSIE FARRELL’S PLANS for 2020 have been disrupted further with the news that Jack McCaffrey has stepped away from inter-county football and may not return. 

jack-mccaffrey-celebrates-after-the-game Jack McCaffrey celebrates after the 2019 final replay. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The Sunday Independent have reported that the former Footballer of the Year has informed Farrell that he will not be part of his plans for the upcoming championship. 

More worryingly for Dublin supporters, the report says there are “strong indications” that McCaffrey may “effectively retire from inter-county football and focus on his club Clontarf.”

The absence of such a talented player and popular figure is a major blow for Farrell, who has already had to navigate the worst disruption to the inter-county calendar since World War II. 

Despite Dublin’s obvious strength in depth, McCaffrey’s loss is significant. He offers something different to most other players: a devastating, unpredictable threat from deep.

The Clontarf flyer can turn defence into attack in an instant and there are few players in the country who can live with his blinding pace. Whenever Dublin dropped bodies back and counter-attacked in that irresistible style, McCaffrey was often in the middle of things.

Giving a handpass, putting the head down and tearing off at breakneck speed to get the return.

Dublin have, of course, dealt with the loss of plenty of big names in recent years. McCaffrey and Paul Mannion both took a season out. Rory O’Carroll moved to New Zealand. Diarmuid Connolly dropped off the panel. Bernard Brogan tore his ACL.

But the absence of McCaffrey will be felt in the dressing room as much as on the field.

“I have a deep, deep love for them, which is something I can’t put into words,” he said of his team-mates after they completed the five-in-a-row last September.

“These are some of the best friends that you’ll ever meet. I spend more time with the Dublin footballers than I do with my closest friends, probably than I do with my family.

“Without getting too emotional and about it, I know things about the Dublin footballers that I don’t think anyone else in the world knows.”

His charisma and easygoing nature is part of his charm.

He’d stay loose and relaxed right up to throw-in before some of the biggest games of his career. During pre-match parades, McCaffrey could be seen with a smile on his face looking up into the packed crowd at Croke Park. 

He stole the show at Dublin’s All-Ireland banquet in 2017 when TV cameras picked up his antics while Jim Gavin and Stephen Cluxton were being interviewed. And then there was his composed reaction a year later when a ceiling leak gave way and almost soaked him and president John Horan during the man of the match presentation.  

He never took himself or the game too seriously. He always gave the impression that there was more to his life than football and railed against the idea his identity was wrapped up in being a Dublin footballer. 

jack-mccaffrey Jack McCaffrey in full flight. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In an era when county players often strive for the say-nothing soundbite during media appearances, McCaffrey is regularly engaging and thoughtful.

He has always been more comfortable standing out from the crowd. This decision reflects that. 

He previously opted out of the Dublin set-up in 2016. A medical student at the time, he originally intended on heading Stateside on a J1 but a change of heart saw him opt to travel to Ethiopia to work with GOAL. His adventure then took him  onto Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania.

He pursued a very demanding professional career as a doctor which was never going to lend itself to doubling up as an elite inter-county player. An ERSI survey in 2016 found that players were spending up to 31 hours per week on their playing careers. It’s only trending in one direction and the time demands have likely risen in the four years since.

He’s probably Dublin’s most likeable player. He is held in extremely high regard by supporters from other counties, even Dublin’s fiercest rivals, principally because of the way he plays the game.

McCaffrey has always had great time for the fans. He was usually one of the smiling faces pictured when Dublin did the rounds to children’s hospitals with the Sam Maguire over the last decade.

“To bring the trophy in Crumlin Children’s Hospital and head over to Temple Street after is one of the greatest honours I’ve ever had in my life,” he said last September.

“You walk in and you see kids who are sick and families who are on a tough journey. To see the joy that us playing football gives them is astounding. Rather than diminishing football – some people say it puts football into perspective and that football doesn’t really matter.

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“No, it absolutely highlights how much sport does matter and how special what we’ve managed to do is. To see the release and the satisfaction that some of these guys get from it, it’s really emotional.”

jonny-cooper-and-jack-mccaffrey-with-3-month-old-ella-kealy-cofffey Dublin's Jonny Cooper and Jack McCaffrey at Temple Street Hospital in 2013. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

McCaffrey endured his fair share of ups and downs on the field too. All-Ireland final day has typically proved to be an eventful one for him.

He was withdrawn at half-time in his first decider as a 19-year-old in 2013. He was struck down with food poisoning the week of the 2015 final but started against Kerry and was later named Footballer of the Year. 

In 2016 he fulfilled the role of Dublin supporter. He tore his ACL just eight minutes into the final the following year. Tyrone in 2018 was his first final to finish on the field of play and he duly won man of the match.

He bagged 1-3 in the drawn 2019 final against Kerry in one of the great All-Ireland final displays. Only a doctor could cut Kerry apart with such precision. He was forced off at half-time in the replay after feeling his hamstring tighten.

To date, he’s won five Celtic Crosses, six Leinster medals, four National League titles, two All-Ireland U21 crowns, four All-Stars, Footballer of the Year and Young Footballer of the Year. He’s probably already the greatest wing-back of all time and has scored 4-17 in 40 championship games from defence.

jack-mccaffrey-lifts-the-sam-maguire McCaffrey lifts the Sam Maguire. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

His defensive work improved hugely over the years. McCaffrey by his own admission was once a “horrific defender” and felt teams tried to target that area of his game. He worked diligently on it and took great pride in stripping Mattie Donnelly at a crucial stage of the 2018 All-Ireland final. In the drawn 2019 final he made eight turnovers – no mean feat.

He was the first GAA star to release a Twitter video calling on the public to listen to the government guidelines and help reduce the spread of Covid-19.

In an interview shortly afterwards, he noted that the lockdown “has given us real opportunity to reassess what we think is important.”

There was some idle media chatter in recent months that some GAA players would decide not to go back into the inter-county bubble after this enforced break.

McCaffrey is the first we know of to make that decision. He’s currently working at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny. He doesn’t turn 27 until October so has plenty left in the tank but as of yet it’s unclear if he plans on returning in the future.

He may not know that answer himself yet. 

What’s clear is he wants to give more time back to his club Clontarf.

jack-mccaffrey McCaffrey in action for Clontarf last year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The seeds for this decision could have been planted some time ago. Back in September 2018, he spoke about his wish to give more time to the club he joined as a three-year-old.

“I’m always embarrassed going back to Clontarf about how rarely I’m there and how little I give back to a club that has given me so much,” he told The42.

“I think there’s still a bit of work to be done on the fixtures side of things, being fair to everybody. The club is the real strong point of the GAA. I think there is a bit more we can do for it. Definitely.”

After returning from Africa in 2016, he lined out with Clontarf hurlers for their Dublin junior championship E final victory. His manager Kevin Collins said at the time McCaffrey’s involvement was a huge thrill to the younger players on the squad.

“He’s genuinely a top-class sports and club man,” he stated.

“Parents have come up to me after the match and said that it was fantastic that younger players were able to play alongside Jack McCaffrey.”

Plenty of more youngsters in Clontarf will get the opportunity to train and play alongside him in the weeks and months ahead.

Dublin’s loss is Clontarf’s gain, but McCaffrey’s electricity will undoubtedly be missed in Croke Park later this year.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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