'Playing with Dublin is a sprint, this is a marathon' - Michael Darragh Macauley
Published 17/03/2016 | 02:30
After a string of swashbuckling club displays propelled him into Dublin's 2010 senior squad, Michael Darragh Macauley is intent on adding an AIB All-Ireland club SFC title with Ballyboden St Enda's after a frustrating county season.
While Jim Gavin's side rebounded to claim last year's Sam Maguire, injuries meant Macauley struggled for form throughout the year, and was predominantly restricted to second-half cameos.
Most of the Dubs went back to their clubs battered and bruised after an attritional inter-county campaign but the 2013 Footballer of the Year came back "buzzing with energy", with a renewed sense of purpose and a point to prove to himself and others.
Harnessing that energy and enthusiasm into Firhouse Road has helped Andy McEntee's side upset the odds, derailing St Vincent's three-in-a-row Dublin SFC ambitions. And Boden haven't looked back since, going on to claim their maiden Leinster crown in dramatic circumstances against Portlaoise in December.
The all-action 29-year-old would usually be knee-deep in Dublin training right now but instead he's thriving on Boden's extended club run, which culminates today in Croke Park.
Speed bumps have appeared at every corner but they've ground their way through and the Andy Merrigan Cup is now in sight.
"What's the part of a marathon where you hit the wall? The 11th mile?" Macauley asks. "We've had a few of them alright but that's made the journey all the more enjoyable. We've had so many near scrapes, starting with the Dublin championship.
"Then, there were so many tough games in the Leinster championship, the Leinster final was off the charts, and then coming into an All-Ireland semi-final, it was madness. It's crazy that we've gotten this far but we're still riding the ship and we're sailing it along nicely."
The ship looked set to hit rocks last month, however, as they trailed Clonmel by three points heading into injury-time and down to 14 men, after Macauley's midfield partner Declan O'Mahony, who yesterday lost his DRA appeal, was sent off.
But in adversity, leaders come to the fore and their three-time All-Ireland medallist didn't shirk responsibility.
"I love that," Macauley says. "That's the best time in a game, when someone says you can't do anything, you can't win anything.
"It's crap when you go onto the Dublin team and someone says you're going to win the game, there's no fun in that. It's great coming on when someone writes you off, says you're past it or someone says you're not good enough midfield or the player you're marking is better than you.
"That's when you get a challenge and enjoy it. We had a big challenge there and it was looking bad but that's when you relish it as an athlete. As a competitor that's when you really relish playing the game."
While the two-time All-Star loves his days in blue, there's something carefree and relaxed about club football, something which reflects his personality. And he has enjoyed getting back to basics with the players who helped mould his career.
"Don't get me wrong, we all love plying our trade with Dublin. I don't have a gun to my head; I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy doing it. But it's the freshness, just something different. I'm still honing my skills and still becoming a better Gaelic footballer and a better athlete, just with different lads," he says.
"At county you have to hit targets and a lot of that sort of stuff whereas at club level, it's a lot more just going out and playing football, which makes it more enjoyable.
"When we go out in a club game, it's not saying that we won't do our homework - we will do our homework. But there's a big sense of unknown - a big sense of let's just go out and play football, which is going to make for better football at the end of the day.
"The Dublin thing is a sprint, May to September is a sprint, this is a marathon. We've been going since April last year and we're still going now, it's been a long journey but an enjoyable one and hopefully we can cap it off."
Castlebar Mitchels, runners-up two years ago, stand in Boden's way as they look to crown a remarkable voyage. Macauley is aware of their threat but there will be no excuses on their part.
"They've been here and done it, and they kind of know what they're talking about," he says. "There's no doubt about it - we're the small fish in this pond. But small fish can bite as well."