'The medal doesn't mean a whole lot to me' - Michael Darragh Macauley admits he wasn't happy after All Ireland win
Michael Darragh Macauley can't deny it.
Last September's All-Ireland final win was his fifth time up the steps on football's biggest day - a feat that puts him in an ever more exclusive group.
But he's frank enough to admit that it felt hollow for him.
Macauley didn't play against Mayo, having missed much of last season through injury, returning to the panel for the All-Ireland semi-final and final.
That was due to reported cruciate knee ligament damage but Jim Gavin and Dublin didn't confirm the exact nature of the injury last year. And Macauley wasn't about to break rank yesterday.
"I don't know, don't know," he replied when asked if he has sustained a cruciate injury.
What he will confirm is that, on one level, he felt empty leaving Croke Park after the All-Ireland final and that it promoted some introspection.
"No, no," he replied when asked if the medal meant anything to him.
"I felt I didn't contribute, yeah. Maybe if that was my first year playing for Dublin, it might have been a different story.
"But I suppose, in the place that I was in my career, not playing in the All-Ireland semi-final, final was not where I wanted to be. Basically, not playing in whole championship, let's face it, like.
"So, no, the medal doesn't mean a whole lot to me. It's not a bitterness thing, it's just the way it was. That's the kind of cards I was dealt.
"I've kind of refocused to put it into this year."
"It was frustrating," he said at the launch of Fanta Sandstorm, a 5km run that will take place on beaches in Kerry and Dublin.
"I just tried to see how I felt. I wasn't happy walking out of Croke Park that day, as much as I was delighted for Dublin and my mates.
"It's a hugely frustrating experience that you can work so hard all year and it's not how you dreamed of the year finishing up.
"It wasn't a bitter sentiment, it just didn't work out for me so I suppose all the effort that I put in going up to that game is now being put into this year.
"Like, I didn't burst myself for nothing. I have absolutely no regrets in how I managed myself and how I pushed myself in trying to come back last year. But I suppose it's put me in better stead for this year."
The 31-year-old met with Gavin over the close season and decided to go again.
"I was coming back from injury so I was in kind of a difficult spot. I got myself back fully functioning. Whatever way the final went, it didn't go for me.
"In other circumstances, I probably would have played it, but whatever. I wasn't happy with how it finished, unsurprisingly.
"I met with Jim in the off-season to have some chats about everything.
"I decided to go again and you can't half-arse do these things. If you're committing to playing for Dublin, it's all in. I was fully aware of that so tried to come back all guns blazing."
Macauley is back to the front and centre of Gavin's plans now. He has featured in every league match bar the final-round dead rubber defeat to Monaghan.
And, on occasions, the Ballyboden-St Enda's man looked to be edging back towards the sort of form that saw him named Footballer of the Year in 2013.
"I'm 100pc, I have zero excuses since August of last year. Zero. Absolutely nothing to complain about.
"I suppose careers are roller-coasters. There have to be ups and downs and there were a few loop-the-loops in there as well.
"You're kind of able to look on it with a bit more perspective as you get on that you know how fickle winning is, and how fickle performance is.
"It really is day-to-day stuff. You see lads walking away, you see lads getting injuries and never playing again who are meant to be superstars and all this sort of stuff.
"I think the more you've been around, the more you cop that it is a fickle business we're involved in and no one looks past your last game."
And he believes that playing basketball in the off-season has helped him maintain his fitness and contributed to his good early-season form.
"The basketball helped me in the off-season. It just kind of kept the belly at bay and kept me in good shape.
"I kind of went back playing social ball, just a bit of craic with a few of the lads and I was loving it, I was enjoying it.
"It was going really well and I ended up taking it up a notch. It was meant to be my down-time from competitive sport but I ended up going to play semi-professional ball there, which I really enjoyed.
"Without a doubt, it makes your January a lot easier. And if you get your January a lot easier, it makes your league a lot easier.
"If you get your league a lot easier, hopefully it's going to kick on and make for an easier championship."
Macauley was part of the Dublin squad that visited World War I sites connected to the Battle of the Somme recently but insisted they didn't train, and therefore could not have been in contravention of the rules surrounding training camps at that time of year.
"Some lads might use it for motivation but I think it was more of an educational piece to bring us more together and take us away and show us something unique that we never would have seen in any other kind of walk of life.
"So it was definitely something different. I probably won't be over in those parts of France ever again but it was interesting, yes."
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