James McCarthy finding stride again after putting injury worries in the past

Dublin defender says league has been a bonus but the focus is now on winning it

James McCarthy was forced to undergo surgery at the end of last season to repair a damaged groin muscle. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

James McCarthy was forced to undergo surgery at the end of last season to repair a damaged groin muscle. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

If the best thing about James McCarthy’s season so far is not feeding himself painkillers and reaching for another anti-inflammatory, then things can only get better.

In ways they already have, because McCarthy admits that making a third successive Allianz Football League final is probably better than Dublin expected, particularly after their shaky start to their season.

Now, naturally, they’ll be going all out to beat Cork in Croke Park on Sunday – and with that become the first Dublin team to win three league titles in succession.

For McCarthy, it’s also the chance to continue his return to full flight and defensive form, having missed most of Dublin’s opening league games as he recovered from a groin operation.

“I was a bit off the pace at the start and just trying to get sharp after the injury,” says McCarthy, speaking at the pre-final media event in Croke Park.

“But I feel good, coming into a bit of form at the right time of year. I’ve had the couple of games now with Dublin and the couple of club games, so the injuries are gone now anyway.

Injuries “And I think we are maybe a little bit surprised to be in the league final. It wasn’t the main thing for us this year, although we still go out and try to win every game we can.

“But we’ve tried out a lot of players, fellas have come back from injuries, we’re starting to come into it nicely now. So in that way it’s been a great league for us. And getting another game on Sunday, four or five weeks out from the championship, is the main thing.”

At 26, McCarthy isn’t exactly young anymore, although nor should he have found himself suffering from a groin injury which was essentially the result of too much wear and tear, or at least too many games in succession.

In recent years he has juggled his strong Dublin commitments with those of his club, Ballymun Kickhams and also played in the Sigerson Cup with DCU.

Then, towards the end of last season, having endured the discomfort for as long as possible so that he could also make the Irish team for the International Rules Series with Australia, McCarthy realised it was time to go under the knife.

“I was delighted to get the operation done in the end. When you first come back, you’re still a bit worried because you still feel it a little bit. But touch wood, everything has been good the last few weeks. In fairness, the surgeon was very clear.

“Nearly to the day, when he said I’d be feeling good, I was feeling good again.

“You’re not wrecking your stomach, taking all sorts of painkillers, and anti-inflammatories. And you’re not in bits, for three or four days after matches. I can train every training session, as well.

“But I don’t think there was any underlying issue. It came on all of a sudden and then got worse and worse. Just that year [when Ballymun Kickhams made the All-Ireland club final in 2013], there was a big load to it and it caught up with me. It just got worse and worse and I just kept playing on it. When I was finished with Dublin, I went straight in with the club. So it just got to the stage when it was better to get it done.

Represent the country

Cork will be familiar opposition, especially when it comes to league showdowns like this. Dublin famously clawed them back in last year’s semi-final, although Cork got the better of Dublin in 2011 final.

“My memories of last were that I thought we were in serious bother, like ‘how are we going to pull this one out of the bag?’ But we just sat down at half-time and we just had to start playing. We went off the cuff, threw a bit of caution to the wind and went for it.

“We got on a roll then. I know playing in games like that when the momentum is against you, it’s hard to swing it back. We just got on top of Cork. We really went after the kick outs. I think we got a goal early on at the start of the second half and I think it just snowballed from there.”

“But in the 2011 final, we just sat back, and Cork came at us. But I think we got a lot from that game obviously. We went on and won the All-Ireland that year.

“We’d got a lot of beatings on big days, but there are only so many of them you can take.”

Cork will be without their wing back Brian O’Driscoll for Sunday, after he picked up a hamstring injury playing for his club, Tadhg MacCárthaigh, just two days after Cork overcame Donegal in the semi-final.

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