Macauley takes the long road to centre stage
Late developer makes up for for lost time in Dublin’s engine room and prepares to take the fight to Kerry
Michael Darragh MacAuley’s ‘change of gear’ and fielding ability has established his credentials as one of the finest midfielders of his generation. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Aside from the frequently told general history of rivalry between Dublin and Kerry, the fixture has assumed contemporary significance in recent times as a touchstone of Dublin’s progress.
Four years ago this month Pat Gilroy, at the conclusion of his first season as manager, described his team as “startled earwigs” in shocked response to the sort of trimming that Kerry hadn’t inflicted on Dublin since the dying years of the 1970s.
Viewed as positively as retrospect allows, it was useful for Gilroy. It gave him an established baseline after a season sifting through his predecessor’s team and also green-lighted significant changes in personnel.
The next major outing for Dublin was also against Kerry, this time on the opening weekend of the league season. Just five players remained on Gilroy’s team from the previous August but they took home the county’s first away points in the fixture since 1982.
Among that day’s debutants was Michael Darragh Macauley. Lining out at centre forward, it was he who broke the match in the last minute. With Dublin leading by a point, he turned over Kerry possession, raced in on goal and fisted the point that guaranteed the win.
The result was a prelude to Dublin’s best league campaign in 11 years. And although that summer was the only one in the last nine that didn’t finish with the county as Leinster champions, the new-look team, configured for tighter defence and kept buoyant by a dazzling season’s contribution from Bernard Brogan, travelled the qualifiers and reached the All-Ireland semi-final, losing narrowly to eventual winners, Cork.
Macauley didn’t come quite from nowhere but few familiar with his early years envisaged the Ballyboden St Enda’s player making the sort of impact he has managed in less than four years: All-Ireland and national league medals and an All Star.
His height, 6ft 5in, made him competitive in the air. But it was his dexterity – until minor level he was a talented basketballer with Notre Dame – with ball in hand and aggression as a runner that distinguished him.
A starter on Dublin minor and under-21 teams in 2004 and 2006 that included future senior colleagues, but which achieved little themselves – losing first rounds to Laois and Kildare and missing his last year as an under-21 with back injury. Macauley never really promised to be among the most successful graduates.
Peter Shovlin managed him as an under-age player, including at under-21 level and for all his club pride in the player’s achievements he candidly says he was surprised.
“Back then he had these back injuries that always limited what he could do. Playing two matches in a week . . . would be very hard on him. I think it was important that he grew out of the injury and he did. He concentrated on football and that saved him jumping half the week on boards and the other half on grass,” says Shovlin.