Records now the focus for James McCarthy and Dublin
As Dublin head into the Leinster semi-final, McCarthy says they must stay focused
James McCarthy at AIB’s announcement of a five-year extension of its GAA sponsorship. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Do not underestimate Dublin’s motivation going into their Leinster football semi-final. Longford got one over them just two years ago, in the O’Byrne Cup, and there’s a certain record in Leinster that would be proudly eclipsed.
At least James McCarthy does his best to dress it up that way. Speaking in Croke Park the day after beating Wicklow by 23 points, the five-time All-Ireland winner was gently informed Dublin’s unbeaten run in Leinster is now 22 games, going back to the 2010 semi-final defeat to Meath.
That equals the record set by the Dublin football team of the 1970s, when winning six Leinster titles in succession, and featuring his father John McCarthy.
“I’ll tell that to the old man, so,” he says. “Outdoing him again.”
With both Meath and Westmeath beaten on Sunday, the last two counties to beat Dublin in Leinster, the gap on the All-Ireland champions would appear to be widening. McCarthy doesn’t necessarily see it that way, only there’s no denying the ease with which they dismantled Wicklow.
“In fairness, we played very well in the first half,” he says, referring to the 4-13 they hit in that opening period. “We were very sharp, felt good from the break after the league, and it felt good just to get together again, get a game together. Things have been going well the last couple of weeks. We’ve been pushing each other hard. So it was just good to get out and get a game.”
Dublin also put out their strongest possible team, including 11 of the All-Ireland starting 15. Manager Jim Gavin suggested afterwards that Dublin never experiment when it comes to championship, and everything about the performance suggests their 2018 model is faster, stronger and more economical.
Longford, meanwhile, beat Meath for the first time since 1982, reaching a first Leinster semi-final in 30 years. Also coming to Croke Park on June 10th are Carlow, who will face Laois in the other semi-final after beating Kildare for the first time since 1953. Times changing for better or for worse?
“From the outside looking in, you wouldn’t expect those results,” says McCarthy. “But Longford probably should have been promoted from Division 3. They seem to have a bit of form and they seem to be a united bunch.
We put massive work on our skills. You can laugh at that, but it’s very important having your basic fundamentals right
“Carlow beating Kildare, I know Kildare were hot favourites for that as well. But I know from first hand last year, they give you a belly full of it. They’re a good team. So it’s not that big a surprise. And Kildare and Meath, they’ll surely regroup and go at the qualifiers and try and get their season back on track.”
Despite the lure of the four-in-a-row, McCarthy insists Dublin’s approach to this All-Ireland campaign continues along the less-equals-more philosophy. Especially when it comes to the hard, physical training.
“It doesn’t change that much. We put massive work on our skills. You can laugh at that, but it’s very important having your basic fundamentals right. So we do a lot of work on our catching, our kicking, our shooting.
“It sounds simple, but it is simple. We put huge emphasis on that. Getting the basics right. That means everyone is sharp in training and matches. It’s just the skills of the game. Lads are well conditioned. It’s a long season. We got a nice break and went back to the club so we’re nice and fresh. You’re thinking maybe we should be slogging ourselves but I always think we should be staying fresh.
“The training has been good the last few weeks. And lads are pushing hard, biting at the bit. So you can’t slack off or you’ll be under pressure for your position. You have younger guys there, Con O’Callaghan, Brian Howard. They’re really pushing lads on. So you can’t get complacent. Guys like Colm Basquel being rewarded for the form they’re showing too.”
“Every year there’s three competitions: there’s the League, the Leinster and the All-Ireland. That’s how we take our season. We’re in the Leinster now so we’re very much focused on two weeks. But of course you’re aware of what’s going on in the background, with the Super 8s, and we hope to get there.”
McCarthy points to another motivation: he was on the bench when Dublin lost that last match in Leinster, in 2010. “No harm having days like that to steel you, I suppose. Never say never. Donegal caught us a couple of years ago as well.
“So you always have to be on your toes and prepare well. You have to make sure you’re looking at all eventualities. We have a lot of experience. But can’t say it’ll never happen again. It forces you to look at your game, to work hard on your game. And to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I remember we had a meeting the week after, and lads were probably thinking about going away and doing different things. But we just said we’d stick together. We’d knuckle down. We got a few ropey wins after and we just got a bit of confidence again and we probably should have beaten Cork that year in the All-Ireland semi-final. But we just kept at it and eventually it turned around. We started going after league matches and league titles, and picking up win after win.”