Dublin senior football captain James McCarthy says the return of Stephen Cluxton, the county’s most decorated skipper, can only be a positive in their bid to wrestle Sam Maguire back to the capital.
Cluxton captained Dublin to seven All-Ireland titles between 2013 and 2020, but his recent return to the squad generated plenty of debate as to the impact it might have within the dressingroom.
For the incumbent Dublin captain though, the arrival of the team’s former on-field general is seen as a plus for the group. Or as Steve Staunton’s phrase, immortalised by a podcast not far from here, might put it: “second captain, first captain, whatever.”
“Stephen is one of those guys, we gravitated to each other very quickly when I started off playing,” says McCarthy. “We were kind of similar, we would have similar feelings and opinions on football and how we go about it.
“It was obviously a shock to a lot of guys seeing him back out on the training pitch, but once guys got their heads around it, it makes complete sense and we’re very happy with it.
“He’ll drive the training standards, he’ll challenge people, he makes things uncomfortable, which is what you want in a top performing team. He has that steely determination, so he’ll drive the group as well.”
David O’Hanlon was impressive between the posts for Dublin throughout the league, but Cluxton’s presence could be viewed as unnecessary extra pressure on his shoulders. However, McCarthy believes Cluxton’s return will only improve the young goalkeeper.
“Competition is good for everybody, it’s good for me, it’s good for a young fellah starting, it’s good for a player in the middle [of their career], it brings the best out of you,” the Ballymun clubman says.
“David O’Hanlon is a cool customer and he has been absolutely brilliant all year. He’s playing excellently. He has the jersey at the moment and it will take a lot to dislodge him as well.
“The two guys will be competing with each other over the next couple of weeks and it’s going to be great for everybody because you can’t beat that competition, it keeps everybody sharp.
“Stephen will bring competition, I’m sure he’s not going to be happy sitting on the sideline or the bench for the summer, so he’ll be pushing hard for a starting position. That’s great for everybody.”
Dublin will begin their Leinster Senior Football Championship (SFC) defence away to Laois on April 23rd and McCarthy hopes some key players will be available for that match. Jack McCaffrey did not get much game time during the league, but McCarthy says the Clontarf clubman should see action in the weeks ahead.
“Jack has been flying at times but obviously he has been off for a few years and we had to mind him a little bit regards his injuries and his training load and stuff,” McCarthy says.
“We are just slowly trying to introduce him back and hopefully unleash him now come the summer. He’s good, he’s training the last two weeks.”
McCarthy also provided a positive update on his club and county colleague, Dean Rock, who limped off with an ankle injury during the opening stages of the Division Two final.
“It’s not as bad as feared at first,” says McCarthy. “He took a down week last week, rested up, and I think he will be in the shake up for the first championship game as well.”
While the Leinster SFC has become a plaything for Dublin in recent times – they have won an incredible and unprecedented 12-in-a-row – the provincial competition is now a wasteland for everybody else. McCarthy contends the provincial championship structure is running out of road.
“We still put huge merit on winning it,” he says. “[But] they probably are coming to an end, that’s being honest about it, the way the championship seems to be shaping.
“It seems to be going into that more based off a Champions League-style group stage, I think that’s probably the way it’s going to go in five or 10 years, but it’s still there at the moment and it’s definitely a competition we want to win.”
And McCarthy makes no secret of his belief this Dublin team are capable of getting their hands on Sam Maguire. McCarthy, Cluxton and Michael Fitzsimons are among a group of eight-time All-Ireland winners, one more victory would see them move out on their own at the top of the pile.
“I’d love to win an All-Ireland medal, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why we are all still playing and going hard at it,” he says when asked about the possibility of a history-making ninth medal.
“Is it at the back of my mind and do I think about it every day? No. But is it something I want to do? Absolutely.”
– James McCarthy was speaking at the launch of AIG’s 10th year sponsoring Dublin GAA