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'That's when it kind of started hitting me and you start getting a bit upset' - Dub star's cruciate recovery

Jack McCaffrey is on the road to recovery after the All-Ireland final injury.

Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Mile.
Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Mile.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

WHEN JACK MCCAFFREY lined up to march behind the Artane Band on 17 September last, it was an experience he was determined to savour.

Twelve months previously he had been an All-Ireland final bystander, watching on in Croke Park after opting out of Dublin’s 2016 endeavours and instead taking himself off to Africa where the UCD medicine student worked with GOAL and did some travelling.

He was back as a key protagonist for the biggest day in the Gaelic football calendar in 2017. The man-of-the-match award pressed into his hand after the semi-final over Tyrone was conclusive proof of how Dublin’s explosive wing-back had been sparkling again.

The Clontarf man was determined to enjoy the All-Ireland final occasion as Dublin renewed acquaintances once with Mayo.

Yet a mere eight minutes had elapsed and he was done. Limping towards the Hogan Stand, slumping into a seat and nursing a snapped cruciate.

“The parade around Croke Park is my favourite place in the world, you can take stock, have a smile and really look forward to it,” says McCaffrey.

“(After) 240 seconds (for) that to come crashing down but it would have been a lot worse if we lost.

“I’ve watched it back a lot of times. It was incredibly innocuous. I was going in a straight line, I tried to turn ever so slightly. It’s a movement I’ve done thousands of times before and hopefully will do thousands of times again, but the knee just didn’t fancy it that day.

Jack McCaffrey down injured Jack McCaffrey is treated by Dublin medics. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’ve seen it done where guys are in agony and stretchered off. I’ve seen it done where guys play on for 15, 20 minutes. It’s an incredibly variable thing.”

McCaffrey went under the knife in Santry a month later to repair the knee damage and almost two months further down the road, his mind has switched to recovery.

Yesterday he was at Irishtown Stadium lending a hand to the promotion of the 2017 GOAL Miles, an event he is planning to compete himself in over Christmas ‘in some way, shape or form’.

35  Heaslip McCaffrey GOAL_90532024 Jack McCaffrey at the launch of the 2017 GOAL Miles in Irishtown with Jamie Heaslip. Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

There’s no fixed goal in his head for a return to action. Dublin are due to make their 2018 championship bow on the weekend of 26/27 May next against Offaly or Wicklow but that’s not a target McCaffrey is fixating on.

He has more short-term aims for his rehabilitation and there is a comfort in that he is the holder of another Celtic Cross this winter.

Jack McCaffrey and Cormac Costello lift The Sam Maguire Jack McCaffrey lifts Sam Maguire with Cormac Costello. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The shock at having his All-Ireland final day brought to a premature halt was tempered by the thunderous match that was unfolding in front of him.

“It was very good that I’d something I could focus on. It (pain in knee) was quite bad initially – you’re thinking this is (the) worst case scenario.

“But you can focus straight into the game, next ball, all that kind of stuff. (At) half-time I threw myself into the analysis inside for five or ten minutes but you do end up when everyone’s having a break, on your own for a while.

“That’s when it kind of started hitting me and you start getting a bit upset and the second half kicks off. Between that and the celebrations, it kept the reality of the situation at bay for a little while. So I was glad of that.”

He smiles at the mention of the subsequent celebrations at the All-Ireland final winning banquet in the Gibson Hotel and the show-stealing performance he produced.

“It was a celebration obviously but I may have got a bit carried away with myself! I’d been sitting at that table, as opposed to being outside milling around with fans, because I couldn’t really stand for a bit longer than anyone else, and availing of what was available there!

“Look, everyone was on a great buzz. It was lighthearted enough. It was funny (the reaction), I didn’t really realise, I wasn’t on the phone much that night, but the next day it was probably the most messages (I’ve got).

“Whatever about winning the game, something like that is probably what gets you noticed, shall we say. I actually went up on the Monday after the final, I went up to get the scan, and I wasn’t in the best shape of my life and tried to engage in the history process, from a medical background throwing out terminology and stuff, and just made an absolute tit of myself! I embarrassed myself a little bit that way.

“I think with anyone in medicine, when you’re sick or if you’ve an injury, you want to be treated like anyone else. Because no matter how proficient you are, once it’s applied to yourself all that goes out the window and it becomes a very personal thing.”

For a player who has a trophy cabinet heaving with awards, All-Ireland final days have been odd experiences for McCaffrey. He’s candid in talking about getting ‘roasted by Kevin McLoughlin’ in 2013 and whipped off at half-time while a bout of food poisoning in the run-up to the 2015 decider contributed to his withdrawal midway through the second half against Kerry.

Stephen Cluxton and Jack McCaffrey Jack McCaffrey celebrates the 2015 All-Ireland final victory over Dublin with Stephen Cluxton. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In 2016 he was in the stands from the start and in 2017 he was in the stands after the early moments. But getting to watch on for an All-Ireland decider in late September was a joyous experience as his sister Sarah ended the losing streak with the Dublin ladies footballers.

“It was actually fantastic, because Sarah had an awful summer this year in terms of picking up injuries, and obviously we see that living together at home.

“It was kind of touch and go whether she’d be fit to feature at all in the final. We were just delighted to see her tog and delighted to see her get on and get the two goals.

“I’ve been at all those ladies finals the last couple of years. They’ve come agonisingly close. They’ve had some really tough times. It’s the same with Mayo.

“The admiration you have for a team that come back from that year after year is incredible. To see the girls do it first hand – it can be quite inspirational at times and it makes you take stock of how lucky we’ve been over the last couple of years.”

Sarah McCaffrey scores their second goal Sarah McCaffrey struck two goals when coming on against Mayo. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dublin’s players appreciate their fortune at experiencing this golden period but the run of success has not meant they are immune to criticism.

The county’s CEO John Costello hit out yesterday at the ‘repetitive’ and ‘misinformed’ criticism aimed at Dublin’s All-Ireland winner after last September’s victory.

“I think there are a lot of people out there who, you know it’s quite an Irish thing to give out about people I’ve found,” says McCaffrey.

“There are some lads on our team that are fabulous footballers and just don’t like doing media stuff. For people to kind of nearly be offended that they won’t change their personality and want to engage (is wrong).

“Like, we have lads, like myself probably and Bernard Brogan and Philly Mac who are in the media a fair amount, people who enjoy it, and it benefits them or whatever, and they do it.

Bernard Brogan and Philip McMahon with the Sam Maguire Bernard Brogan and Philly McMahon after the 2016 All-Ireland final win. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“But then I don’t think it’s fair (that) someone, just because they’re good at football, to go out into a relatively intimidating environment to do something that they don’t enjoy doing.

“I think the Dublin team has been looked at as a whole whereas it’s just really a series of individual personalities. That’s my take on it anyway.”

Another issue in the off-season McCaffrey did have was the suggestion that the Dublin squad had been warned off heading to Australia with the International Rules squad.

“I don’t think it was cheap. I don’t know Dick, and I didn’t read his article in the end. He’s entitled to his opinion, and I’m sure there were a lot of people who shared it with him.

“But Twitter can be the bane of your life at times. It can also be great. I just tried to make a point that there was nearly a perception out there we had all been told not to go and play the International Rules, and it couldn’t have been further than the truth.

“I would have loved to, obviously couldn’t. I know Paul Mannion tried to give it a lash for a while, but Crokes went on for a bit, and he’s gone travelling around South America now for a bit.

“So it was individual reasons for not doing it, as opposed to this blanket ‘ah, the Dubs don’t care’. I’ve taken massive pride in the two times I represented Ireland, and didn’t like the insinuation that we don’t appreciate it, or don’t take pride in representing your country.

Jack McCaffrey with Roie Gray and Hayden Ballantyne Jack McCaffrey in action in the 2015 EirGrid International Rules test. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“And there were lads who maybe weren’t asked and would have taken your hand off in a second. I’m not saying the whole Dublin panel should have been asked in, that would have been ludicrous. But it’s equally ludicrous to say the whole Dublin panel said no. I think you have to be fair with that.”

McCaffrey is coming to the end of his college days, finishing up his medicine exams in UCD next April. 2018 will see him having to juggle rotations as a junior doctor with the challenge of breaking back into the Dublin side.

But they are demands he is looking forward to embracing.

“I’ll be making my choices on what I want to do professionally, and football will be second to that. It’s most definitely doable.

“The biggest challenge would be if I end up in a hospital outside Dublin for a period of time, which I most likely will. It’s four three-month rotations, and unless you get a very high mark, you end up doing nine and three, or even six and six.

“But that’s the challenge inter-county footballers around the country have, jump into the car straight after work, travelling back to wherever they are training. I don’t think it will be a massive issue. I hope it won’t

“The way I’ve been advised to go about it is not to set dates of return to play or anything like that but to set four week goals. Initially that was fully straightening the leg, then it was getting crutches. So I’m kind of excited about the next few months, going after a couple of things.”

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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Fintan O'Toole

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