The GAA was rocked on Saturday evening following the news that Jack McCaffrey has decided to step away from inter-county football for the foreseeable future.
The former Footballer of the Year, according to reports, wishes to take a break from county football and focus more on his club, Clontarf. However, rumours continue to circulate that we may have seen the last of McCaffrey on the pitch.
McCaffrey, who is still only 26, walks away from the Dublin panel with five All-Irelands, six Leinster championships, three Allianz League titles, four All-Star awards as well as the reputation of being one of the greatest (possibly, the greatest) wing-back that Gaelic football has produced.
With that in mind, how do you replace such quality?
While other counties would struggle to fill the void left by a player of McCaffrey’s quality, Dublin have such an array of talent that wining a sixth All-Ireland title in a row is still an achievable goal.
Here are five potential replacements following Jack McCaffrey’s retirement.
Eoin Murchan has already established himself as a star of the inter-county scene, not least because he scored the most famous goal since Seamus Darby in 1982 as Dublin secured a first-ever five-in-a-row in 2019. Murchan made a huge splash on the inter-county scene in 2018 with impressive man-marking displays against Ryan McHugh and Niall Sludden before going on to play a pivotal role in Dublin’s final victory over Tyrone.
Murchan’s form dipped slightly in 2019 due to injuries and other issues but he returned to the starting lineup with aplomb for the All-Ireland final replay. A like-for-like replacement with McCaffrey in that Murchan has blistering pace and can attack all day long. His attacking prowess is not on the level of McCaffrey’s but it must be said that defensively, he bring s a little bit more than the Clontarf man.
Much like Murchan, Brian Howard has already established himself as one of the premium footballers in Ireland having won back-to-back All-Stars in his first two seasons on the starting XV. While Howard’s long-term future may lie at midfield alongside clubmate Brian Fenton, in the short-term, the Raheny man has operated as a roving wing-forward on the Dublin team.
Can often be found in the half-back line when Dublin implement that full-court press that has become so famous for closing out games in the third quarter. Howard was selected at centre-half back on the 2019 All-Stars team, he can play the position. Would not offer the same traits as McCaffrey going forward but his distribution and ability to dictate play means Howard can pay anywhere around the middle section of the field.
Also, with the array of talent Dublin possess in the forward division, moving Howard to the half-back line would in no way hamper their chances.
Kieran Kennedy played a pivotal role at right half-back in 2019 as co-captain of the Dublin Under-20 side that reached the All-Ireland final. While it may not be this year, Kennedy will eventually make the step up to senior level and could be poised to fill that Jack McCaffrey-shaped void at wing-back.
A tough defensive player, Kennedy loves to join in with the attack but what sets him apart is his ability to finish. Can score goals, points and defend with the best of them and he’s also a leader. Kennedy was also excellent for Ballyboden throughout their championship run last season.
One to watch for the future.
Ballyboden St. Enda’s had a fine 2019/2020 season falling just short in their All-Ireland club semi-final encounter with Kilcoo. Whilst the Basquel brothers seemed to harness a lot of the plaudits following their county and provincial honours, Robbie McDaid was the beating heart of that team. Operating at midfield or centre-back alongside former Footballer of the Year, Michael Darragh MacAuley, McDaid was the one who looked like a seasoned inter-county veteran.
McDaid captained Dublin’s glittering minor team in 2011 who famously lost the All-Ireland final to Tipperary, while many of that team, including McDaid, have gone on to claim senior All-Ireland titles, the Ballyboden defender probably hasn’t made the push at senior level that he would have hoped for.
An outside shout but an opportunity he must surely be looking at.
Eric Lowndes is a funny one. The St. Peregrines man has been an ever-present fixture on the Dublin panel since 2014 and has five All-Ireland medals to show for his troubles, however, he has found minutes somewhat hard to come by. At 26, like McDaid, Lowndes should be coming into the prime years of his career and probably views McCaffrey’s exit as an open door for him to swoop in and finally stake a claim for a starting jersey.