No fear of McCarthy losing a lifetime of fitness
So your father played for Dublin. Three All-Irelands, big reputation, biblical stories.
He was some player. One of the best forwards they ever had. The fire is lit inside in you too, great to look back but better to look forward. The ball and the wall, he tells you, will go a long way.
Days are passed caressing it, leathering it, catching it and dreaming with it. The back garden becomes Croke Park, the wall becomes the goals and the commentator shouts last kick. The bug is bitten.
Nobody could keep up with him. John McCarthy was a gifted footballer and what separated him from the rest was speed; blinding speed, and a bottomless engine.
McCarthy has done it, that commentator again. Tell me how you got so fast?
So out they went, father and son, to the famous Bull Wall in Clontarf where they'd run for 5 kilometres. One was getting faster and stronger with each run and by the time he was 16, 17, he was cruising.
By 18, he was a Dublin minor and suddenly a dream was becoming reality.
“My dad said you’ve no right to be on a football pitch unless you’re fit," says James McCarthy now, the man who Colm O'Rourke dubs the Footballer of the Decade.
"He put a huge emphasis on us when we were younger to be fit and strong. He always said football is way more enjoyable when you’re fit and things come a lot easier to you..."
Moments in time. For Tolka Rovers, James was a talented soccer player, for Ballymun he was a future star but it was during a schools cross country race, when John realised.
"If I could relate to one particular thing in school, they were running a cross-country race out in Baldoyle. Coming to the last lap, the clown took the wrong route.
“By the time he got back, there were 100 guys ahead of him. But he didn’t panic, he worked his way back and at the line he was beaten by two yards to finish fourth.
Like a galloping gazelle.
"That's when I knew," he added.
Speaking at an AIG event half a life-time on, McCarthy tells how running and fitness is still central to his sporting life.
"I always did cross-country and stuff in school and got a big kick out of it. I always enjoyed running. It does help when you’re playing on the big pitches like Croke Park and these places. Any little advantage that you get you go after it..."
These last few weeks, McCarthy has been transported back in time. Back to the garden, back to waiting, back to perfecting. In many ways, it's come full circle as the man with all the medals goes back to the boyhood fantasies.
"A week or two (0ff) is fine. But after that, you get the itch. Especially this time of year, when it’s starting to head towards the summer. You love training at this time of year.
"When you go to five, six, seven weeks without the group it’s very hard. There are times you are going to lose motivation because that’s natural and when you do miss training for a day it’s about getting back on the horse as soon as you can. It’s normal to have those bad days.
“You just have to plan your weeks and days. That’s the best way, I find."
No bother on him. The fitness won't go because that's the lifestyle.
“So I can go to Poppintree Park, I can to Albert college. I can go to Johnstown Park to do a bit of running, to kick a bit of ball.
When the football comes back, James McCarthy will hit the ground running again.
"I'm just doing a bit of running and kicking a bit of ball when I can. I suppose you’re nearly like a kid again going out to the back garden and kicking a football off the wall, really. That’s the best of the skills you’re doing really and if I’m going to the park I’ve two or three balls myself and try and kick a few scores. I’ve turned into a bit of a DIY merchant at home and cleared out the garage and done the garden up. I have a few weights in the garden and trying to keep my strength up that way.
"You get the cabin fever. You're just trying to stick to good habits, getting up early, not staying in bed and just having a daily routine and trying to stick to that as best you can. Trying to stay sane the same as everyone..."
The whiff of a football game keeps him going. Knock-out or otherwise, bring it on.
“I think everyone is just crying out for football now. Yeah, it should be fairly exciting if that was the case. It would be a throwback to the 90s and 80s I suppose.
“If that’s the way it went I think it would be no problem from our side. It would be exciting and I think it would be a great championship as well.”
30 now but far from over the hill, James McCarthy has plenty left to give.