For most counties, losing a player like Jack McCaffrey would have been a heavy blow.

The doctor from Clontarf is widely considered the best wing-back of his generation and has four All Star awards to support that diagnosis.

But in the wake of the five-time All-Ireland winner's decision to take a break from football - as he did in 2016 -  Dublin haven't missed him at all.

The reason? Robbie McDaid. The Ballyboden St Enda's man has filled the No 7 jersey seamlessly, winning turnovers, linking the play and getting forward for scores, such as the 1-02 that earned him the man of the match award in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Cavan or points against Westmeath and Laois.

You might reasonably assume that McDaid is just the latest recruit off the Dublin production line but, like McCaffrey, he is 27 and has been starring for Ballyboden for close to a decade.

In March, he was named on the 2020 Club Team of the Year for his displays in their Dublin and Leinster championship victories.

"His performances are no surprise to anyone that would know him well in the club," says team-mate and former Dublin footballer Conal Keaney.

"He has been playing like that since he got out of minor. He was our best player for the last couple of seasons.

"To slot into the (county) team the way he has this year is a credit to him and he very much deserves it. The hardest thing is to get into that team. He has been there or thereabouts for a while.

"He's excelling now and has been one of Dublin’s best defenders this year."

Robbie McDaid lifts the Tom Markham cup after Dublin's Leinster MFC victory in 2011 

The then full-back was captain of the Dublin minor team that lost the All-Ireland final to Tipperary in 2011 - alongside McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Eric Lowndes, John Small, Cormac Costello and Ciaran Kilkenny - and was also on the 2014 side that made up for it at U21.

McDaid went on to win a pair of Dublin and Leinster titles for Ballyboden, the Sigerson Cup in 2016 and a club All-Ireland in the same year alongside his first cousin, former Donegal keeper Paul Durcan, but it was a long, frustrating wait for senior inter-county championship action as his contemporaries racked up five-in-a-row.

The secondary school teacher was on the panel for 2016, dropped after the league in 2017 and didn't feature at all in 2018 as he battled a shoulder injury.

It was only in the dead-rubber Super 8s tie with Tyrone last year that he finally made his championship debut for Dublin but he didn't leave the bench for the semi-final or final. This year, he has played every minute of their four SFC games.

"It's nice to be getting a bit of game time," McDaid admitted after his headline-making performance against the Breffni County. 

"I’ve been very lucky with underage and club success, and that gives great exposure to levels around the country, and the standard you need to get to. I’d like to think that’s all money in the bank."

Jack McCaffrey (L) and Robbie McDaid (R) in action for their clubs

Keaney, who is undecided about whether he will be back with the Dublin hurlers next year himself, says that with McCaffrey gone, and his former underage manager Dessie Farrell now in charge, McDaid has grabbed his long-awaited chance with both hands.

"We all knew he was an exceptional footballer but Jim (Gavin) wasn't going to change a whole lot when he was going for four or five-in-a-row, he says.

"But a lot of things have worked in Robbie’s favour. This year, with the change of management, Dessie knew him pretty well, a couple of lads retiring and Jack stepping aside, it was a great opportunity for him to jump in and he took it.

"He has had a couple of injuries, with ankles and shoulders, that probably slowed him down in relation to making the team quicker but he has shown huge resilience to stay there because in the last few years he hadn't made squads or hadn't made the 26."

Ballyboden also have veteran midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley and young forward Colm Basquel on the Dublin panel but McDaid is the only one guaranteed to feature against Mayo today.

Keaney describes him as "quiet and unassuming but assured and very confident in his ability".

"He's very vocal in training but only speaks when something needs to be said, which is a good sign of a leader.

"He's super fit and a great footballer. He's very skilful and very fast. You can give him a job anywhere on the field and he’ll do it.

"If you were to show a highlight reel of the club’s scores, he’s either giving the pass or at the end of it, wherever he is. He’s always up there supporting and that’s exactly what he’s been doing with Dublin." 

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McDaid is right-footed but also strong on his left. Former Kildare star Anthony Rainbow will manage him at 'Boden for a fourth season next year and says he "has that skillset that you can play him anywhere". They have.

"We have played him centre-back, in the full-back line, half-forward but I think left half-back is definitely his best position," says Rainbow. 

"The way he was playing this year and last year he was always going to be fighting for that position. He has grown into one of the most feared 'attacking' defenders that are out there at the moment.

"He has a great attitude and has the same attitude at corner-forward as he would at half-back; that's one thing that makes him stand out.

"He's a leader and has been immense for us since I've been involved with Ballyboden.

"He's an incredible young man. In terms of his attitude, commitment, dedication, movement, speed, strength, he has everything you want as a footballer that’s part of your team.

"He’s a well-rounded footballer that any team in Ireland would love to have on their panel. He deserves his place on the team."

Six in a row might raise shrugs and sighs in 31 other counties but for at least one person in Croke Park it would be the most memorable of all Dublin's triumphs.  

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Watch the All-Ireland senior football final between Dublin and Mayo live on RTÉ2 from 3.40pm Saturday, listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 or follow our live blog on RTÉ Sport Online and the RTÉ News app. Highlights on The Saturday Game (9.55 pm RTÉ2)