Jack McCaffrey - Studying medicine, schools cup rugby and winning with the Dubs

Dublin’s All-Ireland U21 winning captain has packed a lot into his career as he gets set for tomorrow’s start of their 2014 Leinster campaign.

Jack McCaffrey at the launch of AIG's recent Dublin jersey promotion.
Jack McCaffrey at the launch of AIG's recent Dublin jersey promotion.
Image: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

“I DON’T KNOW why I get stick over this,” laughs Jack McCaffrey.

It’s not a football matter he’s referring to. It’s the cycling.

Living in Clontarf, studying in UCD, he finds the simplest way to navigate from the Northside to the Southside is to hop on his bike.

Living the life of a Dublin footballer McCaffrey has plenty fitness tasks but he finds the exercise in his morning and evening commutes makes sense.

“I live in Clontarf, UCD is a half hour away for a cycle,” he surmises. “If I got the bus, it’d be an hour and 15 minutes. It’s nice, it clears the head in the morning. You can wind down then in the evening when you’re on the way home.”

He uses those bikes rides to map out his days. Playing inter-county football and studying medicine seems incompatible from the outside. Immersed in it, McCaffrey slips into an easy routine.

“Everybody over in UCD is incredibly helpful. The Astra Academy there couldn’t do enough for you.

“If you look at the people on my course, you’ve got some top class musicians, lads like Mark English who are international athletes. Everyone has these distractions.

“I think to a certain degree, it might be overemphasized how difficult it is to juggle that and GAA. It’s about applying discipline to things. It works well for me that if I’ve an hour to work, I’ll do it. If I’d four hours, I’d probably just end up putting it off.”

It’s a pragmatic and mature attitude that serves him well. Being friends with someone like Letterkenny native English, an 800m runner for Ireland, puts him in the right frame of mind.

“I’d be friendly with Mark. He’s a phenomenal athlete. I haven’t picked his brains on anything in particular but just to see how he goes about his day to day business is interesting.”

Mark English Irish athlete Mark English. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

You can imagine it’s a two-way street. McCaffrey signed off from his days as an U21 footballer last month and he’s already stockpiled a fair amount of success. An All-Ireland U21 medal in 2012, an All-Ireland senior medal in 2013 and an All-Ireland U21 winning captain on the May Bank Holiday weekend this year.

Filling the role of captain was a privilege as Dublin steamrolled over Roscommon. His victorious speech didn’t go to plan but that was a minor blot on the copybook of a perfect day in Tullamore.

“I didn’t want to have any kind of distractions beforehand,” says McCaffrey. “So I asked Podge Kearney, who’s involved with the management squad, if he wouldn’t mind jotting down a few words for a speech if we ended up winning the final.

“When I went up to the stand then I fluffed it. I basically couldn’t find him after. The speech was handed to me last minute. I’m not a particularly good public speaker so lesson learned. I still enjoyed the day!”

Jack McCaffrey lifts the cup Jack McCaffrey lifts the All-Ireland U21 trophy. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The enjoyment stemmed from learning harsh lessons. Back in September 2011, he was on a Dublin minor team that let an All-Ireland crown slip from their grasp as Tipperary nipped in to claim a famous victory. McCaffrey absorbed that loss and enjoyed the u-turn in fortunes this season.

What are they
really like?

Rare insights on sport's biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen to Behind the Lines podcast.

Become a Member

“We were a band of brothers, that was something we labelled. A few lads fell by the wayside due to injury or sickness. We were very conscious that they were just as deserving of the All-Ireland in our opinion. It was a dream come true to be looking down with the lads you’ve played with all the way up.”

That capped off his underage Gaelic football days. There was a time when he had to choose whether to pursue the sport when rugby competed for his affections.

“I played until about 4th year in Belvedere,” he recalls. “It was Junior Cup. I wasn’t a fan of tackling people so I stood out on the wing. We lost in the first round (in 2009) to Terenure.

“There’s a few lads in college who are from Terenure and they give me stick. They went on to win it that year. We had a good bunch of lads and gave it a good lash.

“I tried to juggle it in Transition Year. One of the coaches sat me down then and said you’re not giving us a fair crack of the whip. That was completely fair, so I’d to pick between the two and I went with Gaelic. It was a great experience anyway.”

Truth be told, he always felt he’d head down the Gaelic football road. Close to home he’d an ideal soundboard for advice in his father Noel – an Allstar winning centre back back in 1988.

“I don’t think I was ever not going to focus on Gaelic to be honest. It was always my main sport. My dad would have coached me all the way up and was at all my games. He was involved with the Dublin minor setup.

“Anything to do with training or something with college, I can bounce it off him. My poor mam goes under the radar completely. The two of them are huge influences in everything I do. I’m conscious that I’m following in impressive footsteps.”

Noel McCaffrey Noel McCaffrey in action for Dublin in 1987 against Kerry. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He had another Dublin hero growing up, but it wasn’t a matinee name.

“I always liked Stephen O’Shaughnessy. I always remember Shocko used to put his body on the line and go 100% for everything. I was privileged enough to be coached by him a few times when I was younger.

“He was a bit unfortunate with injuries. We played Lucan in a friendly with Clontarf once and they took us apart. But it was nice to take to the pitch with someone you’d looked up to for a long time.”

Now McCaffrey’s the one who sets the Hill in full voice. His blistering speed and skill were on show with that breakthrough goal against Cork in last season’s All-Ireland quarter-final. 2014 dawns with the start of Dublin’s Leinster championship campaign tomorrow. A new season and new challenges. He’s set to meet them.



Jack McCaffrey helped launch AIG’s Dublin Jersey Promotion at Parnell Park. 

AIG is rewarding customers who take out a new car or home insurance policy from or on 1890 27 27 27 with a free kids’ Dublin jersey, or €40 off an adults’ Dublin jersey. 

The offer runs from May 19th to June 30th.  Vouchers are supplied by AIG and redeemable on the O’Neills’ website before July 31st.

GAA 2014 football qualifier first round draw to take place next Monday

Begley returns as Laois and Kildare name teams for Sunday’s Leinster SFC games


About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

Read next: