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Carrying out charity work in Africa has been perfect medicine for doctor Jack

Gaelic Games

By Declan Bogue

Published 17/09/2016

Dublin ace Jack McCaffrey with the locals
Dublin ace Jack McCaffrey with the locals
Making a difference: Dublin ace Jack McCaffrey checks out the view in Ethiopia

Funny, the odd thoughts that come to mind. Jack McCaffrey, the 2015 Gaelic Football Player of the Year, found himself at Croke Park a few weeks ago with his brother to watch the All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Kerry, just another ordinary Joe.

But ordinary Joes don't head away at the peak of their powers to work for the greater good and use their training as a doctor for the GOAL charity in Ethiopia, as McCaffrey has done for the last six months. They don't tend to walk away from a Dublin team on the cusp of greatness, as he did.

"I was thinking whether or not I would be a bit sickened if I saw Dublin go on and win it," he said. "When the ball was thrown in, that all went out the window. It was great. It was an unbelievable game to watch. And I'm looking forward to the same thing in the final."

The 22-year-old (playing for the Dubs below) has done a lot of growing up since we last saw him.

The wide open spaces of Croke Park, where he burned along with his almost supernatural pace, has nothing on the plains of Africa.

After his work with GOAL in Ethiopia, he and his UCD classmates travelled through Kenya and on to Zambia for more work.

Then it was on to Malawi and Tanzania. Thoughts of Dublin and his club Clontarf were far, far away when he found himself on a train for three solid days with Chinese students and couldn't fall back into the easy patterns of football chat, just for something to say.

"Coming from a family that's dominated by football, I had to find new topics of conversation," he laughed.

"So it was great. And then the hospital experience will stand to me. It was good to be able to feel like we were doing a bit there and helping out a bit.

"Going over with GOAL was a real eye-opener in terms of seeing so many different projects in a week.

"It was mental. And it was pretty exhausting. But it was fantastic. Then I travelled around for three or four weeks before I met up with my classmates. So that was something that was completely new to me."

While he was there, he granted an interview to the Sunday Independent, in which he admitted he wouldn't feel the need to be super-ripped, the way you see some footballers. He laughed at the notion, for example, of having a six-pack.

And yet he is back in better shape than ever.

"One of the lads I went away with is really into his gym work and body building and all that kind of craic," he said.

"During the three weeks, especially when we were in the hospital, we were in a small town called Monze in southern Zambia where there's very little to do.

"So they actually had a small gym and we were probably going every day and stayed in somewhat decent shape. I'd a club game after we got back in which I didn't exactly perform to the best of my abilities but I was able to get around the pitch - which was an achievement in itself."

And so to the All-Ireland final this weekend, and he admits that there was never a chance of him being a late addition to the panel, from the semi-final stage onwards.

"They've been so close so often recently," he said of Mayo.

"I suppose I haven't been watching as many games so far this year but I've heard they haven't had that one game. Every team get that one great game in a season and Mayo haven't really had that yet."

It's been said that the Connacht side are planning to go in all guns blazing tomorrow.

"So they're going to come out with everything," he said. "They're one of the best teams in the country in defence and attack. If they all click, it's going to be a hell of a game."

As he admits, he is not a good spectator, and already he is hoping to get a call from Jim Gavin with a view to rejoining the squad in 2017.

"I'm loving the club football now and we have the Sigerson kicking off soon enough, we've the league and that, and if Dublin were to ask me back in I'd absolutely love to give it another lash," he admitted.

"It would be great to go again and watching the lads and enjoying - hopefully - the win in the final, it would really want to make you get back yourself."

However, he has dropped a broad hint that Dublin full-back Rory O'Carroll, another who took a year out this season, may not be back next season.

"My understanding of it is that Rory isn't available for next year, but I'm not 100 per cent sure," McCaffrey claimed.

"He went away for work, it was a very different situation to me.

"I'm not sure how that side of things will pan out for him, but if he comes back I'm sure he loves football as much as the rest of us and I'm sure he'll try his best to get involved."

Belfast Telegraph

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