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McCaffrey delighted to shrug off his weak link tag

 

By Colm Keys

Near the end of Sunday's All-Ireland final, Mattie Donnelly went on one of his trademark bursts into enemy territory which routinely draw a free or an opening for someone else.

It's a Donnelly strength; possession isn't something he easily relinquishes and he has the upper body power to carry him clear of most danger. But in that moment he met a fired-up Jack McCaffrey, who stripped the ball away from him to send play in the other direction.

McCaffrey is reflecting on that moment the morning after and the satisfaction it has given him.

It was pivotal for Dublin in closing out a fourth successive All-Ireland win, but for McCaffrey himself it was another big shift away from the stereotype he has carried for six years.

Recognised as one of the great attacking, swashbuckling wing-backs of this or any generation, McCaffrey has often been perceived as a weak defensive link.

Thus the great buzz he got out of that moment was "something I haven't experienced before".

"It's great to turn a perceived weakness into a strength. I've seen it in games over the last number of years, that teams will get the ball and can see that I'm eyeing them up and go, 'Oh it's McCaffrey, I'll just go at him, he can't tackle'," he said.

"I never felt I was a particularly bad defender. The narrative with me has been that I'm one of Dublin's attacking weapons and can do my defensive duties, but maybe don't excel in them.

"I still probably wouldn't be man-marking guys like Jonny Cooper or Philly McMahon, but to be able to turn over a player like Mattie Donnelly, not an easy man to tackle by any stretch of the imagination, that for me was an exceptional high to get.

"That's one of the best performances that I've ever put in. I think I figured out that I'm actually a defender as opposed to some loose attacking player."

For McCaffrey, being on the field at the end of an All-Ireland final for the first time on Sunday was special. Taken off in 2013 and 2015, missing (travelling) for both games against Mayo in 2016 and limping off with a cruciate ligament tear last year, he finally saw one out.

And it allowed him to enjoy another embrace with his father Noel, the former Dublin footballer and sports injury specialist who was influential in helping to coach the '1993' group.

That included Jack, Ciarán Kilkenny, Brian Fenton, John Small and Paul Mannion, the core of their 2011 minor team, subsequent All-Ireland U21 wins in 2012 and 2014 and the current drive for five senior titles.

"When you take a step back it's kind of great to be able to see his fingerprints on what has gone on," he admitted. "He's the first man I look for when the final whistle blows. He's been a bag of nerves for the last few days."

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