Past failures power James McCarthy’s quest for more success

James McCarthy Dublin GAA Footballer


There are those who might wonder how a five-time All-Ireland winner could continue to find the hunger levels to push for more silverware, but perhaps that’s what sets the best players apart.

The Ballymun Kickhams man has also picked up seven Leinster titles and five leagues, yet underage losses and Dublin’s initial failure to retain the Sam Maguire in 2013 and 2014 jars with him.

Jim Gavin’s troops regained the league title this year, and began their provincial run with a convincing win over Wicklow. This weekend, they welcome Longford to Croke Park, and few expect anything other than a walk in the park for Dublin.

No doubt, the Dubs will put out their strongest team, which McCarthy says is a mark of the respect they show for their rivals, and press their opponents as hard as possible.

Still, it wasn’t always the case that Dublin were so dominant, and the versatile star is fuelled by those barren days.

“Yeah, that’s definitely it, it’s weird how it works,” says McCarthy. “You’d think you’d remember your wins more but it’s more the losses that stick in your craw and stay with you

Even going back to a minor championship game we played with Dublin, Meath beat us in extra time at Parnell Park and I look back on it and that still haunts me.”

“There are definitely a few games that you’d love to have back and have a go at again. You can’t win everything and that’s just competitive sport. You win some and lose some.”

“When I think back to when we first started winning All-Irelands with Dublin (in 2011), the following year we came back and lost,” he adds. “Then we came back in ’13 and won, and then the next year we lost.”

“We couldn’t figure out how to be more consistent, and how to go back-to-back. Once you win one, you want to win two and three, and you’re really hungry and you’re mad for that  feeling of satisfaction at the end of a game when you get over the line.”

“It’s so enjoyable because you’re playing with guys you’re really close with, and you’re playing these big games together that are going down to the wire. Those moments are a very hard feeling to describe.”

“It’s such a powerful feeling when you're playing with a team that works so hard together, you share so many emotions in training and big match days it’s a very hard feeling to describe those moments, but you know it’s a great journey and you won’t be able to experience it in other walks of life.”

“It goes by in the blink of an eye; I’ve been playing for seven or eight years now and I just can’t believe how fast it’s going. So it’s about enjoying it as much as you can while you’re playing because it will be over soon enough.”

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Ballymun won Dublin and Leinster in 2012 but, after a great start, came up short against Roscommon side St Brigid’s in the 2013 AIB All-Ireland club final. The ‘Mun’ have lost a couple of county finals since, and haven’t got back to the biggest day.”

Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper went through years of close calls with Dr Croke’s before finally landing the Andy Merrigan Cup in 2017, and it remains a huge aim of McCarthy’s. The latter helped Ballymun get their county campaign off to a good start in April with group-stage wins over Clontarf and Dublin’s St Brigid’s.

“Yeah, if you ask any GAA player, to win with your club is something special to do,” says the 28-year-old. “We had a massive chance to do it a couple of years ago and narrowly lost to Brigid’s in the final, and we thought we might get back and have a chance.”

“It hasn’t worked out like that, we’ve lost a few county finals and replays, and haven’t been able to get out and compete in the Leinster or All-Ireland series. So look, we’re just so focused on trying to win the Dublin championship again, then we might have a wee look and reassess after that. We’re mad to do it, we’d love to do it, I really would.”

McCarthy has serious respect for a Longford team that dumped Meath out of the championship, and under Denis Connerton are about to play in a first Leinster semi-final since 1988. It’s a tall order for Longford, not to mention Carlow or Laois who will progress to the final against the winner.

“The Leinster championship is always one of the big competitions we go after every year,” says McCarthy. “The biggest respect you can give a team is to go out and do your best and play your best out there, and that’s what we try to do every day.

“It will be no different against Longford who had a great win against Meath, and a great league, and should’ve went up to Division 2.

“They had a controversial loss in one of their games and there was something about a late point in Armagh, I think. They’re a coming team and you can see there’s a buzz about them, so they will definitely give us a good rattle.”

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During summertime, the GAA takes centre stage and it can be difficult for players to get away from it all. McCarthy says he always tries to engage fans when they want to talk football, though jokes that there are times when it gets a bit much.

“Of course. Sometimes you do get a pain but you have to remember that they’re big GAA supporters as well and they mean well, and they mean good for you,” he smiles. “If anyone stops to talk to me, I’d always try to talk to them but sometimes you’d be wishing to say ‘there’s no need to say that to me’, but you know they mean well above all and you don’t want to come across as disrespectful to people.”

“I’ve plenty of opinions at home in my own house. I’ve three brothers there and my parents so there are plenty of opinions flying around that house, I’ll tell you! That’s what makes it enjoyable, having a family there to watch you out there.”

“I think we get away from it more than some other counties, because Dublin is such a big city and there’s probably not as many die-hard GAA fans all around the place,” he adds, referring to the broad walks of life and interests in the capital.

“Whereas in other counties, maybe in small villages, maybe all anyone talks about is GAA. But yeah, there are distractions out there but we’re well-used to it the last couple of years on how to deal with it, and focus on the games.”