This weekend, four weeks removed from All-Ireland glory, Jack McCaffrey plays a game with a contrasting reward: pure survival.
On Sunday, his Clontarf side face St. Oliver Plunkett Eoghan Ruadh in a Dublin SFC relegation semi-final. Win and they avoid the trap door to the second tier, lose and there is another chance but relegation would be perilously close.
"There’s a lot of lads from Crokes, Ballymun, trying to win the championship - that’s an entirely different end of the spectrum," said McCaffrey after receiving his PwC Player of the All-Ireland Final award on Wednesday.
"Plunkett's have Bernard [Brogan], Alan [Brogan], Niall Walsh and Ross McConnell who have played for Dublin. You don’t go out there and chat to lads - your friends - when you’re playing against them."
A few years back McCaffrey said in an interview that GAA in Clontarf was at a disadvantage due to competition from other sports - sports like tennis. It's a comment which friends - especially those from outside Dublin - still give him stick about.
"I’m always embarrassed going back to Clontarf about how rarely I’m there and how little I give back to a club that has given me so much.
"The club is in a fantastic place. We’ve really big numbers at all ages and our ladies are playing a final tonight looking to get up to senior. It’s just our first adult team – we’re under a little bit of pressure now but, we’ll be fine.
"I think it was 2015 we got to the semi-final. We narrowly lost to ‘Boden. We’ve been up and down. We’ve quite a young team. Lads go away for the summer, this, that and the other. It’s just been a bit stilted. We’re in Division 2 at the moment, pretty comfortable there. We just need to sort out the championship."
2018 has been a challenging one for the 24-year-old. He spent much of it rehabbing the knee injury which he sustained in the first five minutes of last year's All-Ireland final.
There was also the matter of his final year of medicine at UCD. He graduated in June and started working in July. Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda is his current station.
"I’m just finishing up a paediatric job up in Our Lady of Lourdes, and then rotating. I’ve really enjoyed that, and that’s an area that I’d strongly consider going into at the moment. But again, it’s the first job I’ve done so I’m open to having my mind changed."
It took eight months for McCaffrey to return from his injury.
"It was a slog," he says.
There were very few fun moments coming back from the cruciate injury.
The way it was described to me is that your ACL is like an airbag and you hope you never have to use it, and if you do, it just ruptures and protects everything else around it.
You see some lads, like myself, I went down, close to tears, couldn’t run, and you see other lads who stay playing for a number of weeks without knowing it’s ruptured.
His return to action came in a league match for Clontarf in May against Fingallians. He spent the first half as an umpire and the second frustrated with his game.
"A lot of the rehab is focused on building up confidence in the knee again so there’s a certain amount of being a bit tentative or nervy at the start, but once you get into a match and someone hits you a shoulder or you’re going for a ball or something, it’s banished to the back of your mind and you just kick on with it.
"Once you’ve come through a couple of sessions, like, I wouldn’t think of my knee at all now going out playing or training.
"Speed is a relatively important part of my game and it was a potential worry coming back, that if I wasn’t quick, I’d have to have a serious look at how I play, and how to add an extra dimension to it.
"I did a lot of great work with the S and C guys and the physio and thankfully it’s still there, touch wood."
It's a season which ended with McCaffrey receiving a Footballer of the Year nomination. That possibility didn't cross his mind in May.
He came on as a sub in the Leinster semi-final against Longford and again in the final versus Laois. From Super 8s to the final whistle of the All-Ireland final, he started every game.
It was an arduous road but one worth it for the reward of a fourth All-Ireland medal.
PwC GAA/GPA Players of the All-Ireland Finals in football, Jack McCaffrey of Dublin, and hurler, Kyle Hayes of Limerick, were on hand to help launch the new PwC All Stars App and pick up their respective awards. Aaron Gillane was also in attendance to receive his hurling award for August.
Picture credit: Sportsfile