From a fresh-faced wing-back to a steely tough all-rounder, James McCarthy has packed a lot into his ten-year inter-county career.
McCarthy looked to have made the number five jersey his own in the first act of his Dublin career while the latter half has seen him win All-Stars at midfield and centre-back with a few appearances at full-back thrown in to boot.
Seven All-Ireland’s later, McCarthy turned 30 last month, alongside clubmate Dean Rock, and the Ballymun Kickhams ace admits the years have gone by in a flash.
“We both hit 30 there a few weeks ago so we did nothing exciting. Went for dinner with my girlfriend that night on March 1, and that was about it really.
“It’s kind of scary when you get to that mark and how fast the years have gone by in the blink of an eye really. We’re around 10/11 years now so we’re getting plenty of stick from the younger guys, that’s the thing as well.
“They like letting us know we’re 30 anyway.”
McCarthy is one of just two players to start all nine of Dublin’s All-Ireland finals (seven wins, two draws) since 2011 alongside captain Stephen Cluxton. The early part of this season saw McCarthy wear the armband, so to speak, in Cluxton’s stead, a feat he describes as a “huge honour”.
His decade with the Dubs has been littered with success, however, he has tasted defeat in big games, unlike some of his teammates.
While the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal springs to mind as the obvious, McCarthy points to Dublin’s 2017 League final defeat to Kerry as one of those little reminders that while Dublin’s dominance is unrelenting, they are not unbeatable.
“There would have been a lot more experience in the first couple of years. We were in a different position. We weren’t winning as much.
“Definitely as the years have gone on when you gain a lot more experience of playing the big games, it gets a lot easier. You take a lot of confidence from your training and your preparation and from all the big games you’ve played.
“That all gets added to the mix and then you have your teammates and the guys you’re playing with. You trust them a lot. We’ve been together a good few years. So there’s a trust there when it comes to big games and that definitely helps us.
“Look, I’m still one of the ones that was around… maybe towards the start of my career with Dublin, we lost a few big games, it’s always good to have that in your memory. Even a few years ago when we were going for five leagues in a row, it’s nice to get those little reminders every now and then, the taste of defeat I suppose, and that helps sharpen the mind.”
With the current season thrown into disrepute due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, McCarthy, like every other elite athlete, is having to come to terms with a blanket-ban on all sporting activities.
He admits it’s been weird adjusting to the hand Earth has been dealt. McCarthy feels the lack of group training comes as a welcome break, however, the three-time All-Star knows it’ll get tougher and tougher as the weeks go by.
“It’s just weird. Weird vibe. It’s strange what’s going on everywhere. I’m just lucky where I live, I have three parks around the corner from me.
“It’s all in a 2km radius. But it’s weird not training with the group. A week or two is fine. You’re nearly happy not to be seeing them all the time. But after that, you get the itch. Especially this time of year, when it’s starting to head towards the summer. You love training at this time of year.
“So it’s going to be tough the next few weeks. You can take the positives out of it. You can rest up and let the body heal up and different things like, there’s advantages to it as well.”
When asked what exactly he’s been doing with his spare time, a jovial McCarthy claims to be “cracking up”. So much so, that’s he’s even turned his hand to DIY now he’s permanently housebound.
“Cracking up!” McCarthy jokes.
“Nothing crazy, really. With the bit of experience over the years, you know not to train too hard either and to say fresh. But just doing a bit of running and kicking a bit of ball when I can. I suppose you’re nearly like a kid again going out to the back garden and kicking a football off the wall, really.
“I’ve turned into a bit of a DIY merchant at home and cleared out the garage and done the garden up. I have a few weights in the garden and trying to keep my strength up that way.”
With the Allianz Leagues not yet finished and championship season around the corner, talks have intensified that if this summer’s campaign does go ahead, then it’ll have to be done on a knockout basis.
Given the time constraints and lack of clarity on how the Tailteann Cup could operate without finalising promotion and relegation between the league divisions, it’s looking increasingly likely that this could be the only option.
McCarthy feels it could be an exciting prospect for teams and a throwback to the days of old claiming there wouldn’t be any pushback from the side of the All-Ireland champions.
“I think everyone is just crying out for football now. Yeah, it should be fairly exciting if that was the case. It would be a throwback to the 90s and 80s I suppose.
“If that’s the way it went I think it would be no problem from our side. It would be exciting and I think it would be a great championship as well.”
Whether it’s 2020 or 2021, Gaelic games will return.
Reflecting on how tough life is for all of us at the moment, McCarthy is keen to highlight that our health is more important. However, he’s fully aware of the happiness that sport brings to this country and has no doubt that when it does return, fans will be mad to go to matches once more.
“Obviously, at the moment health is more important but sport is important too. It brings a lot of happiness and joy to people and they’re missing it.
“I think it will be a big lift to people when it does come back and hopefully, that will be soon. People will be mad to go to matches and like all those things that get taken for granted, there’ll be great appreciation when it does come back.
“I think there’ll be huge crowds at games when we do get back.”