Quietly, without fuss or fanfare, Dublin’s indomitable elder statesman slipped back into his sky-blue suits.
Ames McCarthy’s value to the country of his birth is multifaceted and priceless: a standard-setting conscience; source of competitive spirit; born leader; supreme, purring athlete; crisis extinguisher; Versatile, thoroughbred, giant of crunch time.
That Dessie Farrell’s opening double of Allianz League victories coincided with the return of the man from Ballymun Kickhams was just the latest reminder of his game-changing aura.
McCarthy is the only outfield player to have started in all ten Dublin All-Ireland finals since 2011 (win eight, draw two).
Relentless, constant, the 32-year-old has long been a worship figure at Hill 16.
He’s just as impressive on the pitch as Roy Keane. A gladiator soccer player with that special quality that allows him to bring out the best in himself when the toughest questions are asked. A treasure in the trenches.
A figure most authoritative and influential in times of need.
This need could not have been more pressing for Dublin over the past two weeks.
The worst run since the turn of the millennium put a team that had ventured into myth territory just 15 months earlier when they claimed Sam Maguire for a sixth straight season into the Opportunists’ firing line.
Dublin were clearly in search of familiar certainties, doubts about their enduring ability to assert themselves with the old flourishes at football’s rarest heights were clearly justified.
Even after back-to-back victories, they have significant ground to make up against the form team of 2022, Kerry’s unrivaled attacking talent and suddenly tight-fisted defense driving a menacing Kingdom vortex over the horizon.
Still, the more merciless judgments of Dublin’s decline emanating from the high courts of commentators could be borrowed from the cutting room of the Theater of the Absurd.
One conclusion – declaring her body language during a couple of losses in February risked smearing this team’s legacy for eternity – felt as mean as it was outlandish.
When Dublin has passed its prime, when the natural cycle of years has dulled its luster, it has little impact on what came before. Your golden days are preserved in aspic, untouchable and imperishable.
Against this backdrop of the doomsday bell ringing, McCarthy made his 2022 league bug.
An impressive cameo from the bench in Tyrone coincided with the stirring of something resembling the old Dublin swagger.
Last Sunday, Red Adair returned to the starting lineup and immediately put out Donegal fires before they could blaze.
Swell on the shoulder of the ball-possesser, giving Dublin the direct torque and jugular-chasing offload that a static, lateral-low loss to Kildare at Newbridge lacks. Soar to pluck kick-outs from the sky. Tournament with Michael Murphy in an addicting mano-vs-mano match of old-school heavyweights.
All at once the reassuring voice on the other end of the line whenever Dublin felt the need to dial 999.
It was notable that Kerry’s longtime fate shaper Darragh O’Se, even after measuring the monumental contributions of Stephen Cluxton, Brian Fenton and Ciaran Kilkenny to the Golden Age, identified McCarthy as the most influential figure of Jim Gavin’s golden era.
Perhaps the least celebrated of his qualities was immediately on display at Croke Park last Sunday. McCarthy makes those around him better.
It’s as if the no-frills authority he brings to the arena spreads through osmosis to those around him.
Brian Howard, one of the key figures struggling to find his trusty rung at the top of football’s ladder in February, was once again a force of nature.
Dusting down the familiar and bewildering sidestep, dancing on airbags as he climbed toward the clouds, an extraordinary shift came with a Connolly-like exclamation mark outside the boot. Here was the Howard again from three seasons ago, a footballer of the year on hold.
The cast flourished around McCarthy. Niall Scully was an uncorked bottle of fizz again, pouring his fizz over every blade of grass. Tom Lahiff turned in his best shift in blue and thrived in his recent audition for the role of Brian Fenton’s summer dance partner.
Dublin faces a battle for Division One survival, and as the ground firms up and the days lengthen, Sunday’s Clones duel with Monaghan is likely to be steeped in high-octane championship intensity.
On the other hand, they head north armed with momentum and McCarthy.
The recent rebound isn’t entirely down to the eight-time champion’s return, but it’s hard to overstate the role he must play in a long-term renaissance.
An all-star in midfield and centre-back, almost unstoppable as a rampaging full-back, expert at padlocks when deployed as number three, he combines the versatility of a decathlete with the attention to detail of a specialist.
In full flight over summery terrain leaping through a bursting Croke Park, he remains – in his 13th season – one of the most exciting sights in all of the sport.
An enforced break while recovering from a hamstring injury appears to have fully charged those long-lasting batteries.
A wild, maddened physical specimen, McCarthy seems to hover over the lawn as he moves, never in a hurry but still engulfing the yards with his Rolls-Royce engine.
In his autobiography, Bernard Brogan affectionately dubbed his longtime teammate “Dublin’s big silverback gorilla”.
Unlike this great ape, McCarthy was never remotely inclined to attract attention, but what is often pristine championship ground is its natural habitat.
Clones will have that visceral, claustrophobic feeling on Sunday, the shadow of a possible first relegation since 1995 – and the latest wave of obituaries it will inevitably prompt – hanging over the dubs.
Just one more of those steep climbs that tend to reveal the awe-inspiring essence McCarthy has carried into territory where only the game’s authentic giants can cast their unyielding gaze.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/no-coincidence-dublin-are-resurgent-with-james-mccarthy-back-he-makes-those-around-him-perform-better-41474282.html It’s no coincidence that Dublin is resurgent with James McCarthy – he makes those around him do better