Ballymun’s Dublin title one to savour for James McCarthy

Seven-time All-Ireland winner with the Dubs secured his second county championship

Ballymun’s Paddy Small, James McCarthy and John Small lift the Dublin title. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Ballymun’s Paddy Small, James McCarthy and John Small lift the Dublin title. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

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With Ballymun Kickhams’ Dublin title on Sunday came the rush of adjusted perceptions.

They’re not to be casually categorised with the county’s super clubs, as their membership numbers in hundreds and not thousands. Although they have a clutch (six) of core Dublin All-Ireland winners, that hasn’t always been to their advantage when the players have to come down from the high of serial intercounty success in the space of a few days.

This season the club has had a full-strength panel for the championship with no distractions, able to train together and prepare as a group for what manager Brendan Hackett consistently said all summer would be the “toughest Dublin championship ever”.

James McCarthy is the exemplar of the county player in this context. John Small has been immense at the heart of the defence and his brother Paddy further pushed his own county claims up front where Dean Rock’s shooting in the final came with the nanosecond precision that distinguishes a finisher soon to become Dublin’s all-time top scorer.

Even so, McCarthy has been in a league of his own: the only outfield player to have, with goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, started all seven of the county’s All-Ireland successes in the past decade.

His versatility was a rich resource for five-in-a-row manager Jim Gavin, who deployed him at half back, centrefield or on occasions at full back if there was a man marking job to be done.

In Sunday’s final, when champions Ballyboden were overwhelmed, McCarthy could be seen as previously in the championship ranging up and down the field, using his preternatural pace to pop up for interceptions and out balls at the back or gliding on to the ball in attack before accelerating through crowded spaces as if moving in a different dimension.

After the match he was quite emotional about victory, which came a whole eight seasons after the club’s previous title.

“All the matches I’ve ever played, that was the best as a team I’ve played with in a final,” was his verdict on the 14-point win.

“It’s tough, it’s tough. 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.

James McCarthy ahead of last weekend’s Dublin Senior final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
James McCarthy ahead of last weekend’s Dublin Senior final. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“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 were not going to finish up with this group and not win another championship.

“I remember sitting down with John Small two or three years ago and I was really worried at where Ballymun was and kicking on here. 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 and it’s great to win it.”

Emotion has played a role. There was the league final victory over Ballyboden last December just after the Smalls’ father Declan, a former chair of the club, had died. That success primed the team, he says.

“We had a meeting, hoping we’d put a bit of heart back in the club so we said let’s have a good crack at the game.

“It was a big game for us but probably not for Ballyboden. It was a dirty December night and we got stuck in and won a tight game. It meant a lot and brought a bit of heart back into the club - everyone back, unified front and I think that made a big difference to us.

“We went on from there.”

They were forged in a couple of gripping matches along the way this summer, having to retrieve a five-point half-time deficit against Na Fianna and the arm wrestle with Kilmacud in the semi-final when this year’s much improved discipline slipped, resulting in Davy Byrne’s suspension for the final.

The focus in the final though was unshakeable. McCarthy credits the impact of the younger players as well as the influence of Hackett, who has patiently stayed with the team during two disappointing years, urging that they do themselves justice.

The one regret is the now standard one for new county champions - the lack of a provincial and All-Ireland championship. It is particularly acute for James McCarthy, who injured his ankle before the 2013 All-Ireland final against St Brigid’s, who went on to become the first champions from Roscommon.

“It’s just a pity, I’d love to have a crack at the Leinster and the All-Ireland again. That’s an itch you’d love to scratch but, look, that’s the way the year has ended. Maybe next year we’ll get another crack.

“It would be great. I’d love to. Hopefully, others teams keep battling for it and it might change minds in the powers that be.”

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