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
Yet he acknowledges that Macauley outlasted the blitz on Cluxton’s restarts – Dublin winning only one of their contested kick-outs in the second half.
“We managed him well for most of the final until later into the game when he hurt us . . . He’s extremely strong and fit and nearly always breaks the gain line and creates space out wide.”
From the 65th minute, the phase just after the goal by Kevin McMenamon that got Dublin back into the game and when everything was up for grabs, Macauley featured on four separate occasions: intercepting the ball in Kerry possession, breaking through to provide the assist for Bernard Brogan’s point, breaking through to shoot a narrow wide and processing the ball in the lead-up to the free that decided the match.
An All Star followed later in the year.
In 2012, he was Dublin’s best player in a disappointing season. It would be his redeployment as an orthodox centrefielder that kick-started the revival against Mayo in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, a comeback that fell just a score short.
This year under a new manager Jim Gavin, Macauley’s role remains fundamental. He’s the team’s best ball winner and the player who can make things happen even in heavy traffic.
Meath manager Mick O’Dowd sent out a team in this year’s Leinster final which thwarted Dublin’s kick-out strategies and forced aerial contests in which they prospered until Gavin made changes. But he was constantly aware of the threat posed by Macauley.
“What I like about him is that as a link man he can create a chance very quickly. He’s got this change of gear . . . which enables him to break tackles. He rolls his marker and . . . suddenly there’s a goal chance on.”
Should Kerry again hack into Cluxton’s kick-outs there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Dublin’s centrefield. Ciarán Whelan believes Macauley is equipped to deal with that.
“He has the ability to be a specialist, high fielder but the way Dublin have played has allowed him to emphasise the mobility and drive of his game. Because of the variety of Cluxton’s kick-outs the primary focus isn’t on him to win, say, six clean possessions in the air.
“Looking ahead to this and the presence of Anthony Maher, and if Dublin win, to Aidan O’Shea in the final, Michael Darragh Macauley may have to sacrifice some of his game.
“On Sunday I expect Kerry will pressurise the kick-outs but there’s a risk-reward issue there . . . they won’t be able to drop players back to protect the defence.”
Dublin and Kerry re-engage in what will be a watershed afternoon for two first-term managers. Macauley will survey what has become his territory and maintain his trajectory from nowhere to everywhere.