Macauley: Dublin need to rediscover hunger for battle
DUBLIN midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley insists there is no hiding place for the county's stars in 2013 after last year's failed attempt to retain their All-Ireland title.
It ended with a furious but futile late flurry against Mayo after a season that saw them fail to reach the levels of performance of 2011, and Macauley concedes the Dubs were "not as clued in" as they set about defending Sam Maguire.
"A whole host of things (went wrong)," said the Ballyboden man (below). "We just lost our way. It probably started earlier than that. We've met up a lot since and tried to put our finger on it. I think we didn't realise it at the time, but lads' heads just weren't as clued in as much as the year before. It's as simple as that.
"I knew we'd struggle with that early in the year, but thought we would get our heads together. But in talking to people, all the panel, everyone's heads weren't in the right place at the right time.
"Everything has to be 100pc. If one player is off – and we had a few players not hitting full whack last year – that's all it takes."
The Hollywood ending to 2011 and the celebrations that followed a first All-Ireland title in 16 years didn't help. Neither did the injuries to the likes of Alan Brogan, but Macauley ruled out his deployment away from midfield as a reason. A malaise of sorts, he believes, set in.
"Everyone told us (we'd be distracted) but Pat (Gilroy) did everything to try and cut it all out," he said. "But it is tough. It's a different year after winning Sam, especially since we hadn't won in so long. But it's all behind us. If lads don't have the hunger back this year they've no right to be on the panel. We just have to keep that hunger all year."
Macauley doesn't have to look far for a reminder of the brevity an inter-county career can have. One of the reasons he was pushed into the forwards was Gilroy's selection of Eamonn Fennell in midfield.
Fennell hasn't been involved with the current set-up, even as they cast the net far and wide.
"Being on the starting 15 in the All-Ireland or having All Stars – all that stuff is out the window," Macauley agreed. " And it has to be. To be a winning team, you can't go on reputations.
"That was a problem under previous managements – before Gilroy. The starting 15 was picked in January for June and lads knew they were going to get their place. It wasn't like that under Pat and it definitely won't be like that under Jim (Gavin). Whoever is playing, the best will get the jersey. That's the way it will be and I think that's the only way it can be."
Dublin have been working off a extended panel so far this year that, for the large part, hasn't included their college contingent.
Most of last year's squad are there, while a couple of the 2012 All-Ireland winning minor side have been drafted up.
Even at this early stage, Jack McCaffrey has been making waves at wing-back, and a place needs to be found for Ciaran Kilkenny. With so many options, Gavin has at least as many questions as answers going into this weekend's O'Byrne Cup final against Kildare.
Those answers won't have come last weekend as Dublin had it too easy against an experimental Louth side, but Kieran McGeeney's team sheets have had a much more familiar look to them. And if recent history is anything to go by, Saturday night's game should be a tasty affair.
The sides squared off around this time last year and the exchanges warmed the cold January air. Macauley barely saw out the first 15 minutes before he was called ashore after picking up a yellow card and a warning. Kildare won on a day when 11 yellow cards were dished out.
They'll meet in the league on March 10 at Croke Park as part of the Spring Series and they will likely meet again at HQ in the Leinster semi-final, provided Dublin see off the winners of Carlow and Westmeath and Kildare beat Offaly.
"We've had some good, healthy games over the last few years," Macauley said. "I'm sure Saturday will be the start of it. There is an O'Byrne Cup up for grabs. You want to get off to a winning start. Winning is a habit and the sooner you get into a winning habit, the better."