Best is yet to come from the champions, insists Macauley
Published 16/07/2014 | 02:30
Champions never have to be the best at all times. Just at the right time.
A champion's calibre can only be rated by the strength of their challengers and currently Dublin's grip on the Delaney Cup – never mind Sam – has barely been tickled; they have not had to be at their best all the time.
When their pre-eminent footballer of 2013, Michael Darragh Macauley, declares that he is nowhere near the standards he desires in 2014, the rest of the country should be put on the highest alert; if his current form, and arguably Dublin's too, is not satisfactory enough, the warning signs to putative usurpers are transparent.
"I wasn't happy with my fitness in the Laois game," Macauley declares at a Dublin event to promote their health food partner, Linwoods.
"I had a lot on my plate and I wasn't as fit as I could be. Everyone has their own standards and I hadn't met my own standards going into that match.
"It improved going into the Wexford match. But I have huge room for improvement, which I have my sights set on now."
The expectations placed by supporters on amateur players often reflect the unfair burden on their targets; Macauley was struggling to sleep in May and June as he fretted ahead of his final-year exams as he darted between six-hour sessions in the library and squad training.
"I was under a lot of pressure with exams. It's tough, that's the difference between being an amateur and a professional. It's tough being in a library all day, then going to training and getting a few hours' sleep.
"It makes a huge difference being able to get sleep and rest, or doing an extra session if you need it. So hopefully the improved circumstances will help me as the summer continues. This is the time you want as a GAA player, when you can prepare and recover like a professional athlete."
If the Laois and Wexford assaults on Dublin's eminence were measly, Meath's name alone will provide a sterner challenge in Leinster's decider; last year they brought substance too, at least for 60 minutes of their 60th championship encounter and much of their initial success was predicated upon their midfield dominance.
While Macauley and Cian O'Sullivan provide the ceaseless movement demanded by Jim Gavin's remorseless commitment to free-flowing football, they can be stymied when it comes to sourcing primary possession.
Other teams have worked on this weakness, aside from also staunching Stephen Cluxton's microscopic missiles, and Meath profited for much of the affair this time 12 months ago, particularly in their bright and breezy first-half opening.
On that occasion, the Meath duo of Brian Meade and Conor Gillespie plucked 15 of the 25 kick-outs from either end – and six of Cluxton's 14 for good measure – as they stealthily combined for a half-time lead.
Indeed, it took the introduction of Templeogue/Synge Street's Denis Bastick to become a fortress in the middle third as Dublin powered to their eighth Leinster title in nine years.
Meath will be wary of history repeating itself; against Kildare in the semi-final, they visibly wilted as the Lilywhites launched a late comeback that was propelled by a sudden and untimely collapse of Royal superiority in the middle of the field.
Dublin's aim is to finish games by being as strong in the 70th minute as they are in the first, regardless of which 15 start or conclude the game.
"No one player can win a game for you out here," Macauley declares. "So I have to have faith in the team around me to do a job.
"I'm lucky enough to have a ridiculously talented group around us who are able to perform. The management and players facilitate us to do the best job we can personally and as a team. We're very lucky to accommodate both."
The traits which have moulded them as champions remain unaltered.