The Michael Darragh Macauley magic
Michael Darragh Macauley, hero of Dublin’s All-Ireland victory, credits the influence of his father and teachers – and his obsessive weight-watching – with his success on the pitch
Yet, growing up, his was not a sporting household. Macauley has an elder sister, Margaret, and an elder brother, Joe. “I was the little baba of the family.” His father was “an avid watcher and supporter”. Macauley’s brother Joe played basketball.
But it was really at Ballyroan Boys’ National School that Macauley was drawn to sport, through the influence of teachers there. Those teachers are one of the reasons he is studying to be a teacher now himself. “I’d love to be as influential on someone else’s life as they were on me.” These days the local children send him good-luck cards.
The central event of his childhood was the death from lung cancer of his mother, Rosaleen, who was from Strandhill, in Co Sligo. “Mam died when I was 12. It hit me as hard as can be.”
Over the last two years of her life she spent long periods in intensive care. “I was aware of it. But there was so much going on for you when you are 12.”
All of this is said with great openness and calm. One of things that is not surprising about Macauley is his fearlessness. Appearing on the live RTÉ Two sports show Second Captains Live the night before this interview, he had seemed entirely self-possessed. You feel nothing can shake him, even as the stadium trembles.
One repercussion, as he puts it, of his mother’s death was that he was sent to boarding school. He was 13. “And you know at 13 everything is kicking in.”
He went, as a boarder, to the heart of rugby culture, Blackrock College. That must make him the most unlikely Blackrock boy ever, I say. “I get that a lot,” Macauley says.
“It was a serious culture shock. It was who you knew, completely. You were completely defined by your role on the rugby field. I just never settled into boarding school. I wasn’t coming out of the ghetto, but it just didn’t suit me. But in fairness most people are happy there.”
His GAA teammate Cian O’Sullivan also went to Blackrock. “ Last time we won we were invited out there to talk, and I tried to say that rugby isn’t everything, you know . . . I was getting evil eyes from some teachers in the back row.”
All of his mates from his primary school in Ballyroan had gone on to the local secondary school, Coláiste Éanna, “and it had a big basketball team. I begged and pleaded to go there, trying to sway my dad and my sister, but it didn’t work.”
His father,who sounds great, never gave in. “Blackrock is really expensive, and he used to see the money going out of his bank account and say, ‘It has to be a great education.’ I beg to differ.”
Seven years ago his father was diagnosed with fibrosis of the lungs. “It was a big boost for him when he learned he was on the transplant list.” It was at this point that Macauley started writing him diet sheets and giving him exercises. For years it had been just him and his father in the house. Was that a bachelor paradise? “I wouldn’t say that.”
Three times his father was on the verge of receiving a lung transplant. “With my mum I was told at an early stage that she wouldn’t make it.” Was it helpful to be told that, even though he was so young at the time? “Yes,” he says.