AT THE END of every season, James McCarthy will sit down and reflect on the year. 

Six times since 2011, he has finished the year as an All-Ireland champion. On three occasions, he’s been selected on the All-Star team and can count himself extremely unlucky not to have won at least four. 

But that doesn’t stop the Ballymun star from searching for areas of improvement for the following campaign. It’s that mindset that could well see McCarthy go down as one of the most decorated GAA players of all-time.

“Everyone has their self-doubts here and there,” he says.

“You’re the one getting chased all the time, you’re always trying to raise the bar. It keeps you sharp, you know teams really want to try and catch you, take you down and beat you.

“I’ve always tried to sit down each year and ask, ‘How can I improve? How can I get better? What do I need to get better at? What do we need to get better at as a team? What do we need to keep doing well? All them little things and they all add up then to hopefully a good performance in games.

“I’m long enough in the tooth now and I’ve played in a good few campaigns. I know how to get the body ready and get the mind ready for action. For me, it’s just trying to avoid injuries and little things like that and staying fit.

“Looking after yourself and once I do those things they give me confidence that I’m ready to go and play football and matches. The more games you play I always find the better football you play so it’s just about trying to keep the body right.”

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Dublin’s bid for a record fifth All-Ireland title in succession begins in earnest against Louth tomorrow in Portlaoise, but good luck trying to get any of Jim Gavin’s players to speak about the Drive for Five. 

“From our perspective, we never look at anything ‘in-a-row’,” he remarks.

One of the teams McCarthy admired growing up was the Kilkenny hurlers who also strung four All-Irelands together between 2006 and 2009.

“The teams that won a championship in the previous year are always the team that everyone looks at. Even myself growing up, I was watching the great Kilkenny team when they were winning All-Irelands.

“You were looking at them going, ‘What can I take from them and learn from them?’ There’s always that there. I don’t think it adds any extra pressure to us. We’re such an experienced team now and we know what to expect.”

Ballymun and Dublin ace McCarthy.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

McCarthy is asked if he can see any similarities between that legendary Kilkenny side and the current Dublin squad.

“Lads in our team are very close,” he responds. 

“Naturally, you’re with each other so much. I think we are genuine friends. Even before a lot of guys played with Dublin, we were in college together.

“It’s just a very tight team and that helps in the white heat of big games or when the big moments in games are coming and you need to put something in the bag. We would be a very close team and we push each other very hard all the time which is a big plus.

“It’s just building that trust there among everyone and knowing you can rely on guys around you that’s a big thing and we have that in spades so it’s great.”

And how does he avoid all the hype surrounding the five-in-a-row? 

“You just stay close to your team-mates and focus on what we can do and what we can control. That’s what we’ve done in the past and it’s served us well so that’s what we’ll do.”

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