McCarthy as fit and hungry as ever as he chases ninth All-Ireland medal
Ten years after his first success, Dublin stalwart shows no sign of slowing up
James McCarthy at the launch of the Go-Ahead Dublin GAA leagues and championships at Parnell Park. “I’m fortunate now when I get back training I get up to speed pretty quick. There’s a lot of experience to fall back on as welI.” Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
James McCarthy is listing off the reasons how and why his football career is so enduringly successful and he eventually narrows it down to the old adage that less is more.
He may still be as fit, healthy and hungry as the player who won his first All-Ireland with Dublin in 2011, and added number eight last December, only that doesn’t mean he still needs to train the same.
Recovery has become increasingly paramount over the years and, after turning 31 in March, McCarthy also believes some of his best football is yet to come. He who is not busy improving is busy dying.
“Definitely the last few years I’ve put a lot more focus on injury prevention,” he says. “Getting older as well I think you get that bit smarter at training. When I think back on the first few years I had playing, I was doing some stupid training, like training in between training.
“Like training on a Tuesday, then on a Wednesday going off doing runs on myself. Brain dead stuff really, asking for trouble because you’re only going to get hurt.
“I also think you build up that training age, as they call it, so many years of training under the belt. And I’m fortunate now when I get back training I get up to speed pretty quick. There’s a lot of experience to fall back on as well, so it’s a combination of all those things really. But there’s definitely more focus now on injury prevention, pre-hab stuff.”
Luck, he admits, has a lot to do with it too. McCarthy was the only Dublin outfield player to win that eighth All-Ireland on the field of play, along with goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton, and the fact he’s avoided any major injury over the years has been critical to all that.
“Recovery is so important now, given the level of intensity we do train at. It’s about knowing how to get the body right at the right time of the year. It’s been a lot of good fortune over the years as well, I’ve picked up injures in the middle of summer, think the year might be gone, so I’ve been very lucky I didn’t do something like an ACL, that could put you out for the year.
“Getting to number nine. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that would be something I’d love to achieve, and something I have in my mind I’d like to go after, of course it would. But I’ve been around long enough to have to just focus on each season as it comes. If you think ahead, you get caught.
“I just focus every day on being a better player, and I think I can get better, keep on producing something for the team. I actually feel in great shape at the moment, as good as I’ve ever been, and enjoying the football still, and hopefully have another three or four years left. I still think I have a certain way to play, what I can bring to the team, and try to focus on that as much as I can.
“I love seeing young lads coming in, really hungry for it, going for it, but I still take some pride and joy in the fact they still can’t beat me on the longer runs. They get me over the shorter distances alright.”
Though not everyone in the Dublin panel have been able to share McCarthy’s longevity for a variety of reasons, players like Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion opting out in their prime.
“I completely understand, it is an awful pity, I’d be close to the two lads, but they just got to the stage they felt they needed to take the break, I know with Paul he just got so busy with work, and Jack being a doctor, just couldn’t go again. They’re a huge loss and you miss them but you totally respect their decision, hope to see them back again maybe.
“But once you’re enjoying it so much, still getting a kick, that challenge is there, and for me personally I’m still mad to go, still enjoying my football.”
McCarthy didn’t feature in the last round against Galway, but hopes to play on Saturday as Dublin take on Donegal in the league semi-final; there will only be a Division One final if Tyrone beat Kerry in the other semi-final (as otherwise it would be a week closer to when Kerry and Donegal start in the championship).
“I suppose the GAA hands are tied, the way the championship was set up. But it would be an awful pity if there wasn’t a match to play to win the competition. We’ll see how it works out this weekend. We’ve played well in 10, 15 minute periods, we just haven’t put in a full performance really, over the whole 70, 80 minutes. But we’re looking for a big performance on Saturday definitely.”
Speaking at the launch of Go Ahead Ireland, the public transport provider of bus services, partnering with Dublin GAA as sponsor of their leagues and championships for the coming three years, McCarthy did hint at one regret, and the fact Ballymun Kickhams never got to play a provincial series after winning back the Dublin title for the first time since 2012.
Another things McCarthy has learned over the years is not to get drawn into criticism, the latest example coming from former Donegal boss Jim McGuinness , who described Dublin as the most defensive team in the country, lacking some of the attacking style now so prevalent in other teams.
“Look, it happens, I don’t take too much notice myself. Now sometimes you might, pick up something that might annoy you, and you might hold onto it for a while, and hopefully to ram it back. But no, that’s the name of the game, isn’t it?”