Monday 19 March 2018

MDMA on the way back to his top form

POWERHOUSE: Michael Darragh Macauley in action against Kerry during the Allianz Football League match at Croke Park Pic: Sportsfile
POWERHOUSE: Michael Darragh Macauley in action against Kerry during the Allianz Football League match at Croke Park Pic: Sportsfile

In the eight games of Dublin's 2017 Division 1 League campaign, Michael Darragh Macauley played 315 minutes of football.

In their five matches of 2018 so far - and with three more almost certainly remaining - he has already been on the pitch for 314.

Sunday's controlled dismantling of Kerry was unquestionably his most impressive performance in a Dublin jersey in some time but what will be more interesting now is Macauley's involvement this summer.

The 2013 Footballer of the Year's total 2017 Championship contribution amounted to 15 minutes as a substitute against Monaghan in the All-Ireland quarter-final, principally due to an injury discovered belatedly and the specificity of which Gavin made a concerted effort to conceal.

Earlier in the season - after Dublin's League final loss to Kerry - Macauley discovered he had damaged his ACL but decided in conjunction with management against going for surgery and instead, underwent rehab on the muscles around the joint in a bid to play a part in their three-in-a-row bid.

The knee stayed stable.

He marked James McCarthy in the final internal training match before the All-Ireland final, when the 'B team' beat the 'As' by a point.

"A wrecking ball," McCarthy later recalled of their tussle.

"Not enjoyable..."


But despite being stripped and perched on the line beside Jim Gavin on two different occasions on the biggest day of the football year, Macauley never made it on to the pitch.

At 31, having played so little summer football and with a lingering injury that could conceivably require surgery and a gruellingly long rehab time, his immediate future wasn't certain.

Then, in late November, it was announced that Macauley had joined Superleague basketball side Éanna.

He made his debut away to UCD Marian on November 30 which, as it happened, was the same night that a Dublin senior football selection played UCD at the opening of the newly-named Billings Park in Belfield.

Macauley wound up on the losing team, with Marian winning by 84 to 79.

Jim Gavin was in attendance.

Since then, Macauley has started all five of Dublin's League games, finishing two, including Sunday's all-action performance against Kerry, arguably his finest individual display since 2013.

"We have a lot of players in that middle third who need time," Gavin said when asked whether he had come into this season with a policy of playing Macauley as often as possible in mind.

"First and foremost Michael Darragh is playing good football for the team and that's the criteria we judge all players on.

"Naturally enough players do need to get game time to keep motivated in terms of an opportunity to express themselves in a county jersey but first and foremost he got game time and he responded to that and is playing well."

So far, Macauley is one member of that outrageously talented 2017 All-Ireland final Dublin substitutes bench to make a decent crack at winning back a starting spot.

Bernard Brogan is likely to sit out the year and the prospect of him starting a Championship match again for Dublin seems remote.

On Saturday night, Gavin's explanations of Paul Flynn's injury and the whereabouts of Diarmuid Connolly were typically vague.

The former seems unlikely to play again before the commencement of a Leinster SFC that already has the look of a foregone conclusion about it.

Connolly was "rested," according to Gavin, despite playing his first inter-county match since the start of last June two weeks previous in Castlebar, having played 190 minutes for Dublin last year and just 26 so far in 2018.

Sunday did however, feature a first appearance of the season for Cormac Costello, who scored a point after his introduction.

Like Macauley, he would appear to need game time just now but Gavin said his priorities were longer-term.

"We'll judge those as they come along but at the same time we're 11 weeks out from championship to the day," he pointed out.

"Obviously we've got a strategy for that as well; it's just a matter of striking a balance between giving players game time and keeping them fresh."

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