Michael Darragh Macauley on football being just a game, his tattoo and a chance meeting with a basketball legend in Temple Bar
Dublin star will never take football career lightly but life has given him a strong sense of perspective
"The whole crew is in there," says Michael Darragh Macauley with just a hint of a smile as his eyes fall towards his arm.
It's hard to miss the striking image to the inside of his bicep but the story behind it is more striking. Macauley lost his mother before he was a teenager and his father passed away a couple of years ago. Now they live, indelible on his skin . This way, they travel with him everywhere.
"It's is a painting, one of my mother's paintings, she was a bit of an artist. It's herself and myself walking down the road," he explains.
"And when my dad passed away I added him in as well. And then my dog passed away and I put my dog in as well. So the whole crew is in there.
"My mam has pieces of work all around the house and I really like that one - so I said I'd go with it."
These last few weeks, Macauley has been coming to terms with his new place in the Dublin set-up.
When he didn't start against Fermanagh, it was the first time he'd been left out for a game of significance since breaking through in 2010. For some, it would be the end of the world. But Macauley knows that even if he doesn't start against Mayo on Sunday, nothing is lost.
"There is perspective all around me. I know how important football is and how important football should be. It is just a game at the end of the day," he says.
"We put a whole lot into it but there are real-world events that happen all the time that will take you back down to earth and make you realise that you are just kicking a ball around a field at the end of the day."
It's not the refrain you often hear from a county player. It's all or nothing now. First or last.
Croke Park will rumble on Sunday and millions of euro will be made in the process but there's a part of Macauley that stays detached. Part of him that won't get swallowed up by the high-wire stuff of Championship. Whatever happens, the sun will rise on Monday.
He's always moved in his own way. Right from the start, he sought out his own path.
Basketball was his first love and his chased that hard, even when he was sent to rugby stronghold Blackrock College. A few years later, he was invited back to talk to students. He told them rugby wasn't everything and went home.
Even now, he does things differently. He's a teacher but also a qualified yoga instructor. And he might never have been a footballer but for some gentle cajoling when he was minor.
"My basketball was going quite well at the time and football, it probably hung on whether I made that (Dublin minor) team or not. And I definitely would have been a complete outsider to make it," he says.
"I don't know how much faith I had in myself at that time in football, but I had a manager in the club who was very confident in my ability, more so than I was, and I managed to have a good trial and it went from there.
"Other people had confidence and then I set my sights thinking 'okay, maybe I can have a crack at senior."
For a brief while, his career rocketed. Instead of being jettisoned from the U-21 panel the following year he was fast-tracked to the senior set-up.
"What happened was I got a call to play on a Dublin U-21 team. I was shocked and surprised that I made that team. I was just on the panel for it," he says.
"I remember they were making a cut on the Saturday and I got called into the office. I had my bags packed and I was ready to go, I was pretty impressed that I had made it like I did. And they told me they didn't need me on the panel, and I was like 'fair enough yeah' - and then they said 'the senior panel want you'. I was very confused!"
There was to be a twist. A knee injury flared up. A particularly bad case of tendinitis required an operation and two years were lost. With them went any chance of a scholarship in UCD, Sigerson Cup football and the last of his underage career.
It seemed like a hammer blow for his aspirations. He might have gone another way but the late Dave Billings never let him stray to far from football.
In some ways, it made him.
"In retrospect I wouldn't take it back," he says. "I'm glad my knee wasn't working for those two years because I managed to do a bit of travelling and enjoy college and then get stuck into football. You can't plan it but the way it worked out I was happy."
Since Pat Gilroy threw him in against Wexford in 2010, his star has been on the rise. He won his first All-Ireland the following year but he did that his own way too. On the Friday night before the final he went to a concert and dropped into Temple Bar.
"It was a Libertines gig. I went into a pub in Temple Bar - sober it doesn't need to be said - and I saw (basketball star) Scottie Pippen standing there," he recalls.
"It was a room full of less than 6ft white Irish guys and girls and there was this 6ft 8in black Scottie Pippen and we went over and jumped on him.
"He was over here on business but he was saying 'we are playing your courses man, you guys have lovely golf courses over here.'
"I was raging I didn't offer him a ticket to the match, I'm sure he would have known about it. Would he? I'm sick I didn't offer him a ticket."
His father had passed away before he won his second All-Ireland in 2013 and went on to be named Footballer of the Year. That night was special but as much for the fact that his brother flew in from Australia to surprise him at the ceremony.
More recently he was quoted by Jordan Belfort, aka the Wolf of Wall Street, when he said: "If I had given up basketball, I wouldn't be in an All Ireland final."
It's been quite a journey, one that makes him appreciate the here and now rather than the maybes and what-ifs.
"I'm quite mindful. I'm just playing for the moment," he says. "You see some amazing players who presume they have another five years and either injury or a change in manager comes around the corner and they are not there in a year's time, never mind five.
"I'll keep myself in good shape and I'll apply myself properly and get myself in the best frame of mind for football. And as long as I'm doing it I'll give it everything. I wouldn't half-arse doing it - you never know what is coming around the corner."
Win a training session with Opel GAA ambassador Michael Darragh Macauley, or book your seat on the GAA GPA Opel All-Star tour to Houston, as Opel prepares to launch its latest competition. See www.Opel.ie/GAA