sweet success Dublin powerhouse James McCarthy hails Ballymun club victory 'as the best ever'
James McCarthy has started nine All-Ireland senior finals for Dublin, including two drawn deciders, winning seven, as well as an All-Ireland U-21 decider and Leinster and league finals too many to mention.
So, when he describes last Sunday's Dublin SFC showdown as "the best" final performance produced by any team he has played on, you've got to take notice.
The 14-point chasm, separating a buoyant Ballymun Kickhams from a beleaguered Ballyboden St Enda's, offers statistical ballast. Whatever about the outcome, no one saw this margin coming. Not against the holders.
And perhaps, equally, because of Ballymun's chequered history since landing their third county title in 2012. The next seven campaigns yielded a couple of final defeats and a surfeit of gloom. So much so that, even a few years back, their on-field leader was starting to question where it had all gone so wrong.
"I remember sitting down with John Small two or three years ago and I was really worried at where Ballymun was," he recalls.
"We hadn't won another championship, the team looked like it was getting older and I was getting worried.
"It was mad; we started training this year and I got to know all these young lads well. Brilliant footballers - brilliant, brilliant footballers. We just got to train together properly for three or four months and you could see us getting better every game and we just knew something was snowballing."
In a nutshell, the flipped GAA season has uncorked the potential that everyone knew existed within a dressing-room populated by six senior Dublin panellists. McCarthy concedes that he has been half-broken, physically, coming back into club combat after several previous All-Ireland campaigns. But that excuse wasn't the sole reason.
"The big thing for us all week was we were saying we're not going to sit back," he explains. "We played the final a few years ago (2017) and it was a sickening feeling afterwards; we didn't even have a go at the game.
"We lost by a goal to Vincent's; we just said, as a team, no way that could happen and we just played front-foot football all over the place, squeezing, putting bodies on the line."
As for the bigger picture, beyond Ballymun, he believes the lessons of this Covid-constricted season should not be lost.
"I really hope that's the way the GAA goes with it now - splits the season, club and county. I think there's a lot of talk and there seems to be a lot of support behind it," he says.
"You watch those club games, they're brilliant like . . . from experiencing both sides, playing with Dublin and coming back, it's very hard to do it the way it was. This way, I think, is the way forward. It's fair on everyone.
"A couple of years I was really disappointed with how I came back - and I think a lot of the guys were as well. It's hard. You're coming back a lot of the time broke up, injured, carrying something.
"You've been on the go for eight years, playing replays against Mayo or Kerry and you're just tired and it's really hard to try and get going. The evenings are cold, it's wet and it's going to be sloppy, so it is hard.
"But we've no excuses. We've always got what we deserved the last couple of years. We underachieved and that's the fact of the matter. We're not going to finish up with this group and not win another championship."
McCarthy hasn't given up all hope that a belated New Year window could yet be found for provincial and All-Ireland club championships, once the inter-county season ends.
"It's a special competition, having a crack at Leinster and who knows? I'd love to. Hopefully other teams keep batting for it, and it might change minds in the powers that be."
Still, even if that doesn't come to pass, McCarthy can take huge satisfaction from the manner of his second Dublin SFC coronation. Even the absence of crowds, "weird" as it has been, didn't detract.
"Absolutely," he confirms, when asked if it meant as much as winning an All-Ireland with Dublin.
"We've beaten all the big teams this year; it's a great championship to win. We've beaten Ballyboden, (Kilmacud) Crokes, Na Fianna, Thomas Davis. I don't think anyone can argue with us being the best team this year."
At half-time in their quarter-final, they trailed Na Fianna by five points.
"In other years we might have gone into our shells and not come back in those games. That gave us great confidence, the way we roared back from big deficits and turned it around. You can't buy that in a team," he stresses.
And he believes their club renaissance could be good news for Dessie Farrell too.
"John Small's probably been playing the best football I've seen him play. Paddy Small's playing really well," he says. "There'll be other lads who've put their hands for a call-up. Look at Cameron McCormack. He's been outstanding all year in the championship. What a footballer for a big man - skill, good hands - so I think these guys could get a chance with Dublin as well.
"You train together for months and you actually get to see these guys day in, day out. You realise how good they are, as good as is out there. Andrew McCaul, who's a young lad and is the most laid-back young fella you'd see - doesn't give a b*******! - just comes on and plays. He scored a goal against Na Fianna and won a peno there (against 'Boden)."
He also paid huge credit to Brendan Hackett "after a tough two years" and a great backroom team "backboned by Ballymun men".
Last year, coming back from Dublin's five-in-a-row, had been a difficult ask for management. And yet, according to McCarthy, what happened last December proved a watershed. They pipped Ballyboden in the Dublin AFL1 final.
"We limped out of the championship again last year, which was embarrassing the way we went out against Na Fianna," he reflects.
"We didn't have much training for that league game. It was the time John and Paddy Small's dad (Declan) passed away. We just thought it's time to get a bit of heart back in the club, so we said let's give this a right crack.
"It was a dirty December night and we won a tight game. It meant a lot and brought a bit of heart back into the club and the team again - everyone back, unified front, and I think that made a big difference to us, I absolutely do. We went on from there."