Jack McCaffrey: 'Negatives' of inter-county commitment are 'overstated'
By John Harrington
Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey believes some commentators have lost sight of the fact that most inter-county players make the commitment to be involved at the highest level because it’s so enjoyable to do so.
There’s no doubt that the demands made of inter-county players in terms of how many hours a week they have to commit to the cause have gone up in recent years.
But McCaffrey disputes the suggestion that those demands have made being an inter-county player more a chore than a source of satisfaction.
“It's crazy!”, he said. “When you're a kid kicking a ball around in the nursery in Clontarf in your head you're wearing a Dublin jersey and you're running around Croke Park.
“It's literally a dream come true for most lads there. I'll be the first to acknowledge that there's a massive commitment, but you wouldn't do it if you weren't enjoying it.
“The craic you have and the enjoyment of it all most definitely outweighs the negatives.
“Even the negatives, Jesus, if you weren't playing football you'd like to think you'd be keeping yourself in somewhat decent shape. You'd probably be going for a run or to the gym three or four times a week anyway.
“Everyone on the team is the kind of personality who enjoys exercise. After my operation I was going out of my mind because I couldn't do anything exercise-wise and I was in a foul humour, I was taking the head off everyone in the house.
“Once you're able to go and do anything like this, it's fantastic. It's a real part of a balanced lifestyle and I think the negatives of it are very definitely overstated.
“I leave the house looking forward to going to training. You arrive and have the craic with everyone. You go out and you train and you come back in and you're home to bed. It's not a chore.
“In the depths of January when you're running up and down a mucky pitch you can question your life-choices sometimes, but definitely it's something most people do because it's fun.
“I think people do lose sight of that a little bit.”
McCaffrey is currently studying for a degree in medicine in UCD. Despite the considerable demands that entails, he believes it’s still possible to balance being an inter-county player with intensive studies or a profession.
In fact, he insists that Dublin manager Jim Gavin insists that all of his players prioritise their work and private lives ahead of their commitment to the county football team.
“The professional side always comes first in our camp anyway for everyone,” said McCaffrey.
“That's one of Jim's core tenets - you look after the things that are going to look after you after football. Your profession is your profession.
“That is my priority, anyway. It goes quite harmoniously with football which is great and I can't see that being an issue.
“It's a very doable thing and I think it's a very healthy thing to have a good professional life and also something outside of that which can serve as an outlet for frustration or a distraction.
“Genuinely, if lads were worried that you were putting too much into it and everything else in your life was drifting it would be said to you, 'is everything going well in work?' or 'how are your relationships, are you seeing people enough?' All of that sort of stuff.
“It kind of stems from that. For myself, the medicine does take up a good bit of time. At the minute it's a bit of down-time but everyone has something outside of it.
“I don't think there's many lads on the team who are just 'the footballer'. Everyone has a couple of balls in the air and I think it's definitely healthy.
“When you're in that football zone you're in the zone 100 per cent in the knowledge that you can turn off in an hour and go do your other stuff.
“As opposed to if you're just trying to make it football, football, football, 24-7. That's not really sustainable, I don't think."
Currently rehabbing from cruciate knee ligament surgery last October, McCaffrey admits his lay-off from the inter-county game has made him appreciate it all the more.
“I always have the same perspective that football is something that could for a variety of reasons end up being taken away,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s changed a whole pile but definitely reinforced that. It makes you realise how lucky you are and also how much you enjoy it. You realise that when you see how much work you’re willing to put in to get back there.
“At the start, there’s question marks over whether you’ll ever get back and then you realise, ‘You know what, I really want this, I really enjoy this and I’m going to move heaven and earth to get back to where I was.’”