Macauley primed to resume battle
Dublin's perpetual motion midfielder calm as ever ahead of Croker clash with Royals
MICHAEL DARRAGH MACAULEY was booked in the 67th minute of Dublin's Leinster SFC semi-final win over Wexford.
His crime, a sparky reaction to what could only positively be described as some poorly executed tackling by Ciarán Lyng after the Dublin midfielder was felled in possession.
He was substituted in the 68th.
Draw your own conclusion.
Yet to be simultaneously aggressive and disciplined on the football pitch is both a delicate balancing act and one at which, by necessity, Macauley appears to have become most proficient.
Kieran McGeeney used to bemoan how Kildare full-forward Tomás O'Connor found it so difficult to win a free on account of his bulksome size and strength.
With Macauley, the inverse is true.
His strength is such that even minimal contact with an opponent can look like the exertion of some fairly brutish force.
"You probably are treading a fine line at times," he admitted, in conversation with the Herald prior to Sunday's Leinster final.
"It definitely isn't an issue for me. One blot on my copybook in my career as a footballer isn't the worst record."
The "blot," as Macualey so ambiguously puts it, was a straight red from David Coldrick in Killarney last year when, in his own vague explanation "things went a little far."
Dublin won easily in Jim Gavin's second competitive match as Dublin manager and newspaper reports describe the Macauley incident somewhat euphemistically as an "off the ball clash with Kieran Donaghy", that firm Kingdom favourite amongst this Dublin team.
Afterwards, Jim Gavin questioned why just one player had been sent off (Donaghy was booked), but never attempted to exonerate Macauley from the offence.
Anyway, he's pretty proud of the record, even if he seems to occasionally become a focus for opposition.
In Omagh, for instance, the day Diarmuid Connolly kicked the point to send Dublin in the League semi-finals, Tyrone seemed to do everything in their capabilities to try and get Macauley sent off.
Then again, as Joe Brolly so colourfully put it after Dublin beat Cork a week later, "Any team serious about beating Dublin must start by shooting Michael Darragh."
"I'm not sure if I am a target," Macauley shrugs.
"I probably come in for the same 'doings' as anyone else. But it's something you have to be careful of. Especially with the black card now in place.
"It's always in my mind that I want to finish every game and put in the best performance I can. I definitely can't do that sitting on the bench with a black or red card.
"It's definitely something I'm careful of. I was probably closer to the line than I would have liked the last day against Wexford," he admits.
"And that was fair enough, Jim made me the decision to take me off. We have to be careful...but I don't really get wound up."
His attitude surely, is Macauley's greatest selling point.
In 2010, he came into a Dublin team which, by his own admission, "had the weight of the world on its shoulders," on account of a couple of hiding after a long litany of near-misses.
"We didn't know the names and we didn't care who we were playing," he recalls of his immediate contribution to the party. "We had no previous history with these teams. It definitely stood to us."
Raw energy would probably be the most common description for what Macauley brought to Gilroy's team but that does no justice to the levels of efficiency he added, even in the early days of his inter-county career.
On his debut in Tralee against Kerry, he scored the winner in the February 2010 League clash but played a direct contributor role in 1-6 of Dublin's tally on the day Gilroy laid down a new and fairly rustic template for how Dublin would proceed, post earwig.
What caught the eye was the aggressive running, the high-fielding and the ability to rip possession from opponents who sought contact.
But people who have coached or played with the reigning Footballer of the Year talk about the awareness of space and clear-headed option-selection.
"A lot of my decision-making probably came from basketball," he says, before checking himself slightly.
"I'm not harping on about the basketball again but….definitely, a lot of my decision-making, when I'm going at players, would have been a natural, instinctive thing that I developed since I was eight years old.
"It's not something I'd be able to change now, even if I wanted to. It's so ingrained in me.
"With making right the decisions in the game, I definitely don't make the right decisions always. It's about looking back at every decision and seeing where you could improve it. And I do that. I look at things I could have and should have done.
"All athletes should be students of their game too. They should look at themselves and aspects they can improve on. And I'm definitely one of them."
Which is why he's long since come to the conclusion that Dublin will to be both better and different to last year to repeat their All-Ireland winning success.
"There's no big secret about that," Macauley says. "We will have to up it again from last year. All the other teams are going to push on and have a look at what we did last year.
"It's only natural. We would have obviously looked at what Donegal did in 2012 and to see how to improve ourselves. Everyone's going to be wising up, sharpening their tools for the business end of the season.
"It's just being ready for the big days. Hopefully there's a few this summer," Macauley concludes.
"And none bigger than this Sunday against Meath."