Jack McCaffrey’s departure from the Dublin squad shocked the GAA world, when the news emerged on Saturday.
The Clontarf star reportedly has stepped away from Dessie Farrell’s squad, with suggestions that he may have donned the blue jersey for the final time.
And what a mic-drop, if that proves to be the case.
Having previously taken a year out in 2016, the pacy wing-back has won every honour in the game. 2013 Young Footballer of the Year, 2015 Footballer of the Year, five All-Ireland titles, and four All-Star awards in each of the last four years he represented the Sky Blues.
Without Jack McCaffrey, there would have been no five-in-a-row. Throughout the championship run over Jim Gavin, there were countless examples of the flying doctor digging his side out of a hole. And you don’t need to look back any further than last September’s drawn All-Ireland final. He put in a virtuoso display, complementing a stunning first-half goal with three second-half points to keep the 14 men of Dublin in contention.
Irreplaceable? It remains to be seen. But along with Stephen Cluxton, McCaffrey has been perhaps the most valuable player to this great Dublin team.
Such an early retirement, if it proves to be the case, is not an unprecedented phenomenon in Gaelic games. In 2011, Kilkenny hurler James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick walked away from the intercounty game aged just 26.
The three-time All-Star and five-time All-Ireland winner continued with his club Ballyhale Shamrocks, but never returned to the intercounty game – even amid links to Anthony Daly’s Dublin squad given the 2006 Young Hurler of the Year was based in the capital.
Or goodbye for now?
Nonetheless, such U-turns are far from unheard of.
DJ Carey famously called time on his career in black and amber in February 1998, citing a loss of appetite for the game. The decision of one of the sport’s greatest ever stick-men to hang up his hurl aged just 27 led to a phenomenal reaction.
‘The Dodger’ received over 25,000 letters from all over Ireland, pleading with him to reconsider his decision. It worked, and he was back in the Cats’ championship squad that summer, and would go on to win three further All-Ireland titles as well as the Hurler of the Year award in 2000.
Brian Corcoran was another high profile returnee, having walked away from the Cork hurlers in 2001. The Erin’s Own man came back into the fold for 2004, filling the void left in the Rebels’ forward line by Setanta Ó hAilpín, and playing a crucial role in the Lee-siders winning back-to-back Liam MacCarthy triumphs.
Lar Corbett departed the Tipperary panel in early 2012, only to find himself back in Declan Ryan’s plans that summer. The 2010 All-Ireland final hat-trick hero played four more championship campaigns with the Premier.
In the big ball, Paul Galvin and Jimmy Keaveny were among the high profile players to reverse retirement decisions.
So could Jack McCaffrey successfully have an impact, should he return in the future? He put in a remarkable, All-Star winning campaign in 2017 after taking over a year out. The precedent is already there.
At 26, he has ample time to come back should he so wish. And given what he has achieved for his county, the door will always be open.
But as is the very nature of amateur sport, life must come first.
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