dublin star James McCarthy: I’m a very competitive person, that keeps me going
EVEN the thought of another sport-less lockdown is enough to turn James McCarthy’s stomach.
Last Sunday afternoon, the Dublin footballer sat down and flicked on the television, zoning out of reality for three hours, enthralled as Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal duked it out in Roland Garros in the French Open Final.
“If there was nothing on every weekend,” he points out, “it would be a sad world to live in.”
As McCarthy speaks digitally from Parnell Park, the GPA have balloted their members to gauge supporter for staging this year’s Championship.
Some players are using their social media accounts to broadcast worries about proceeding as scheduled with the first weekend of inter-county action since March 1.
Others are arguing their enhanced value to society in this, of all years.
Inter-county managers, often the most muted faction in world sport, are piping up and chipping in of their own volition.
Every degree on the full spectrum of opinion is accounted for.
“Nobody is forced to play. Nobody is forced to go in,” McCarthy points out. “You’re going to make the call yourself if you feel it’s the right thing to do or not.
“It’s the health side to it as well, the mental side to it. Playing sport, it gives everyone a lift.
“I know myself personally, I’d miss it terribly if I didn’t have it.”
“But,” McCarthy goes on, “I completely understand guys who don’t feel it’s right for them. They have to make those calls.”
McCarthy has more skin in the game than most.
He is one football All-Ireland medal shy of the record of eight held by five Kerry men; Pat Spillane, Páidí Ó Sé, Mikey Sheehy, Denis ‘Ógie’ Moran and Ger Power.
“Look, absolutely, the more you win the better,” he shrugs.
“But no, I don’t particularly worry about it. It might be in a couple more years’ time…but it would be great to get another one.”
Having turned 30 in March, time now suddenly seems a finite resource.
Recently, McCarthy came across the team photograph from the 2011 All-Ireland final and was struck by all the faded faces - only six starters from that day remain.
“You’d miss that bit of experience and wisdom, if you like,” he admits.
“But there are guys now that are pushing on now and taking up that mantle.
“There’s loads of experience around the changing room. Even if you look at a guy like Brian Howard. He’s been around for what? Three, four years? But he’s played a lot of big games and he’s built that up himself.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be caught short for that. There’s a lot of big game know-how around the team.”
McCarthy accounts for much of that himself .
In his autobiography, Bernard Brogan describes an encounter with McCarthy in the Dropping Well Pub in Dartry on the Tuesday after the 2018 All-Ireland final.
Nominally given the number 27 shirt by Jim Gavin for the game, Brogan travelled with the team and took part in the warm-up but wasn’t part of the official match day squad.
Sensing his long-time team mate was weighing up whether or not to stay on, McCarthy approached.
“Stay with me on the journey,” he pleaded. “Give us one more year. We started this run together, let’s finish it together.’
Brogan writes: “Coming from a fella like James, it’s powerful. He’s so passionate about Dublin football…when one of our greatest soldiers says, Come with me on the journey, what do you do?”
It’s little surprise then that McCarthy sees himself stretched out of the inter-county game sooner than he’d consider walking from it off his own free choice.
“I just love playing football and I love competing,” he stresses.
“I love seeing as the years go by, can I still play at a high level?
“Can I still take on everyone I play against and play with?
“I’m a very competitive person, so that keeps me going really. We’ve obviously been successful.
“Just the competitive nature in myself, probably kicking on a bit as well, can I still play at the high level? Scratch that itch, and see if I can perform at a high level. That’s what keeps me going.”
For the moment, that requires a new menu of discipline.
Among the kaleidoscope of possible scenarios in the looming, uncertain Championship is a team - as likely to be Dublin as anyone else - forced to forfeit their place due to an infection outbreak.
Having gone more than six years without a Championship defeat, it would be a bizarre concluding chapter to their story.
“We’d certainly like to be taken out on the pitch more so than if something like that happened, absolutely,” McCarthy stresses.
“And look, we’re taking every precaution we can,” he confirms.
“Wearing masks inside, washing our hands, really restricting who you’re seeing, especially now with the new regulations out and you can’t even go to someone else’s house.
“So it’s just trying to be really careful, absolutely. You’re living like a bit of a hermit for the next few weeks.”