Jack McCaffrey is back to form and ready for September 2nd
You could hardly ignore the huge grin on his face in the 67th minute of Saturday’s All Ireland Senior Football Semi Final against Tyrone as he made way for Paul Flynn. Nor could you ignore the childlike look of wonder and exciting during the pre-match parade.
Such is the attitude and demeanor of Clontarf’s Jack McCaffrey these days. And he seems to be completely submerged in his own personal enjoyment of the season this year.
The 2017 All Ireland Final against Mayo painted a very different picture. We all recall Jack drop to the ground towards the end of only the 6th minute. He did get back to his feet but for only a minute as Flynn was sent in to replace him. His journey through cruciate surgery and rehabilitation would begin there.
At half time in the Leinster Semi Final against Longford, his familiar shape and stance appeared from the tunnel. The recovery was complete. Jack was back. But it wasn’t easy.
Prior to this McCaffrey returned for Clontarf in a league game and it wasn’t the performance he’d hope for.
Not the best start for the Clontarf man
“I was so excited” he told the Examiner, “and it was always in the back of your head thinking that you’ll come back and score 3-6 or something but it didn’t happen like that.”
“I came on at half-time and I was just brutal, I was really upset.”
Thankfully for Dublin fans that form didn’t last long and Jack’s impact was pretty much immediate in both the Leinster Semi Final and Final as a substitute. So much so Jim Gavin returned Jack to the starting 15 for all the Super 8 phases and last weekend’s All Ireland Semi Final against Galway.
But the road back to fitness had it’s dark times for Jack, and thankfully he prevailed.
“Hands down the toughest thing I’ve had to do in sport,” he admitted.
“Usually, I really enjoy football and there’s always a good buzz in training. You’re working hard but it never feels like hard work. When you’re on your own in the gym and just meeting up with the physio to do a bit of running, it’s a very different challenge and you have to go to a bit of a dark place at times and power through it.”
Room for Improvement
Saturday it was Jack back to his best. He showed the speed and power that won him the 2015 Player Of The Year. But in his eyes there’s still a way to go.
“It’s only when you get out at Croke Park and you get a ball in your hand and you just go that you finally feel it’s there again and you’re back. I think I’m similar enough to how I was”
“My raw speed probably isn’t that (great), like, my strength would always be running with the ball as opposed to pure running.”
For McCaffrey, he’ll enjoy the build up as much as he has any other year. He’ll put last years’ Final and the injury behind him and concentrate on Dublin’s opponents.
“You have to pay Tyrone the respect they’re due and look at how you’re going to deal with their strengths,” said the three-time All-Ireland winner. “We’ll do a good bit of looking at Tyrone over the next two weeks and maybe the week of the game and start turning the focus back to ourselves then.”
And the parade before the game? Surely it’s one part every GAA athlete wants to be a part of.
“The parades around Croke Park are the coolest thing ever,” he smiled. “I just feel like a child going around.”