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‘I always had a bit of wanderlust’ – Michael Darragh Macauley on seeing the world, what drove him as a player and being a ‘fan’

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Michael Darragh Macauley gets off the bus with the Sam Maguire Cup for the All-Ireland victory celebrations back in September 2019

Michael Darragh Macauley gets off the bus with the Sam Maguire Cup for the All-Ireland victory celebrations back in September 2019

Michael Darragh Macauley gets off the bus with the Sam Maguire Cup for the All-Ireland victory celebrations back in September 2019

Michael Darragh Macauley joins the Zoom call dressed in a black sleeveless vest and stripey board shorts. He’s sitting by a pool in Hikkaduwa, a small surfing town on the south coast of Sri Lanka.

Don’t be jealous, lads,” he says, spinning his laptop around to capture the golden sand and crystal sea of Akurala Beach below.

In the past six months, he’s been to Montenegro, Albania and Serbia. Macauley has hiked the Dolomite Alps, surfed for a month in Morocco and did the Annapurna circuit in Nepal.

He was knocking around by Everest for a bit too but avoided Base Camp. Too touristy.

“Base Camp,” he explains, “is like if you’re on the piss in Dublin and go to Temple Bar.”

He’s been in Sri Lanka a bit longer than anticipated – “they won’t let me into India,” he says, but almost immediately acknowledges: “there’s worse places to be stuck.”

Macauley sips a green smoothie through a long straw in a tall glass. Techno music thumps in the background.

So. Missing the O’Byrne Cup?

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Michael Darragh Macauley and John Small, front, of Dublin in action against Aidan O’Shea and Fionn McDonagh (10) of Mayo during the 2019 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Darragh Macauley and John Small, front, of Dublin in action against Aidan O’Shea and Fionn McDonagh (10) of Mayo during the 2019 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Darragh Macauley and John Small, front, of Dublin in action against Aidan O’Shea and Fionn McDonagh (10) of Mayo during the 2019 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

“I always had a bit of wanderlust in me,” Macauley explains, “and I saw all my mates traveling around the world, here, there and everywhere during their 20’s and I never got to do it.

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“And,” he goes on, referencing a central theme in tomorrow night’s Laochra Gael episode (TG4, 9.30pm) about his life, “that is where the contradictions come in about being laid back about football.

“If I was so laid back about my football, I would have done it before now. I would have walked away a couple of times, as you’ve seen some other players do.

“But I didn’t because I was so competitive that I wanted to stick it out.”

The programme depicts Macauley as a paradox. Vertically laid back but deeply driven.

Joe Brolly once told an anecdote about him showing up to the 2011 All-Ireland final with no boots and being forced to borrow Pat Gilroy’s.

Macauley confirms the veracity of the yarn, albeit he says that Brolly got his games mixed up.

“There’s a small bit of truth in everything,” he notes.

And yet nobody went harder in training than Macauley. Nobody looked after themselves better.

Nobody wanted success any more and arguably, nobody rinsed quite so much from their talent as he did, sticking it out right until the end in an era when players started walking away in their prime.

“I’ve seen that conflict in myself at times and I don’t know where I sit on it sometimes,” he admits.

“I was never laid back going to training. Like, I tried my ass off in training. I tried my ass off in between every single training session.

“So I wasn’t laid back whenever it comes to the physicality part of it and being a top performer in football and life, that wasn’t something I was laid back about.”

Even the skateboard/cruciate ligament story only tells a half truth.

Yes, the initial ligament tear he suffered in 2017 happened after falling whilst skateboarding at a wedding. But it went undetected and Macauley played a subsequent League final against Kerry in which the real damage was done.

So the suspicion that Macauley would slip away into the inter-county sunset and never glance back came from something of a false impression.

As it happened, his first match back as a supporter was last year’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Mayo.

“Maybe I should stay away,” he said.

“It was a strange relationship, going back into it as a supporter again,” he admits. “It's something that I said I looked forward to for so long.

“It was sh*t, but I wouldn't dwell on it. I didn't dwell on it when I lost as a player, I won't dwell on it when I lose as a fan.

“The lads know they weren't good enough on the day. It just encouraged them to go away and work harder. That's what it would do with me as a player.”

“As a fan, I was able to compartmentalise that sort of stuff. I wasn't going home punching walls or anything. That's just sport. I never treated it as more than that.

"It's made the story much more interesting for the lads. It's going to be a fun season ahead.

“Everyone knows that, they’ll be hurting from last year and they’ll be eager to get back at it. I’m sure they’ll give it all they have.”

In the mean time, two more of those he soldiered closest to; Kevin McManamon and Philly McMahon, have also walked away.

“It will have been tough for Kev, Philly and those lads, given how competitive they are,” Macauley notes, “I’d say they were tempted to give it one more year to make that comeback and to finish on a win.

“But it makes for a better storyline now,” he adds. “And it’s going to be nice to see how hungry they are when they come back, so I’ll definitely watch that space.”


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