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'He became a yoga instructor. That's the level of detail he would have gone into to try maximise his career'

Reflecting on the trophy-laden Dublin career of Michael Darragh Macauley.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

A COUPLE WEEKS ago it was Mayo, now the Dublin departures lounge is starting to fill up.

Michael Darragh Macauley’s retirement followed the exit of Paddy Andrews. Hot on the heels of Macauley’s announcement came the news that Paul Mannion had stepped away from the panel for 2021. 

In the era of long-winded statements inevitably beginning with the words ‘The time has come…’, the Ballyboden powerhouse kept his farewell announcement short and sweet. 

“Sin é uaimse. Míle buíochas ó chroí,” he wrote.

It was typical of Macauley. The man who apparently showed up for his first Dublin training session with pink laces and often trained in basketball shorts, he has made a habit of doing things his own way.

Seven words as Gaeilge, one less than the number of Celtic Crosses he retires with.

By the finish, he had little more to achieve in the game. 

There may not be a more decorated player at club and county level. Nine All-Ireland titles between club and county paints the picture of a serial winner. Eight of those All-Irelands arrived with Dublin.

As it stands, only 10 others have won as many Celtic Crosses as Macauley. 

Add to the 2013 Footballer of the Year, five National Leagues, 10 Leinsters and two All-Stars he also picked up along the way. 

“All-Irelands aren’t easy things to win but for him to personally go on to win the player of the year in 2013 and two All-Stars [was a huge achievement],” Dublin coach Brian O’Regan tells The42.

“He brought a lot of energy to the game, a lot of hard and direct running, and he made a lot of scores for other players and brought others around him into the game.

“In the critical moments in big games for Dublin over the years, he made big plays which is what ensured the fans and we’ll all always remember him for as a Dublin player.

“When he came onto the team along with other players at the time and Dublin’s fortunes changed. He had a big impact for sure on that.”

And you can be sure the 34-year-old is determined to add more silverware with Ballyboden before his career is out. Three county titles, two Leinsters and that Andy Merrigan Cup are already part of his personal haul.

“He always gave his all to Ballyboden every time after he came back,” says O’Regan, a man well-placed to assess Macauley’s career.

O’Regan has worked as director of coaching in Ballyboden since 2002, while recently he coached under manager Anthony Rainbow as they won Dublin and Leinster championships in 2019.

In 2020, O’Regan joined Dessie Farrell’s management ticket for what turned out to be the farewell tour of Macauley’s inter-county career.

He reflects on one glorious 12-month stretch in Macaualey’s career between September 2015 and September 2016.

“To win an All-Ireland with Dublin, and on [the following] St Patrick’s Day to win the club All-Ireland with Ballyboden, and then the following September winning an inter-county All-Ireland again — that’s a phenomenal commitment. It’s a phenomenal amount of miles at times put on the clock during that 12 month period.

michael-darragh-macauley Ballyboden St. Enda's star Michael Darragh Macauley. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I’m sure Michael Darragh will take a few weeks off like everyone else is unfortunately with the Level 5 restrictions at the moment and I’m sure when the dates are released for the club championship he’ll be mad to go and mad to get back.”

He was blooded under Pat Gilroy in 2010 and quickly became a key man the Dublin midfield. A different breed of footballer was required as Dublin repeatedly came unstuck in the All-Ireland series. 

“He burst onto the scene in 2009 when Ballyboden won the club championship in Dublin. He was one of the main guys as a young lad on the team.

“That catapults him then into the Dublin set-up in 2010 under Pat Gilroy. Really I suppose his career took off like a juggernaut after that leading up to the medals he’s won, the Player of the Year, two All-Stars.

“Not that he came from nowhere, he’d been on the Dublin U21s before that, but that was his big breakthrough year. And that brought him onto a Dublin [senior] panel the following year,” recalls O’Regan.

“He’s had an electric career really. Few players will match what he achieved with Dublin. From a club point of view, Michael would be a huge role model around Ballyboden for the young and the old people.”

In the early days the club pushed hard to keep him involved. Energetic, with a wide range of interests, Macauley would sometimes be absent from training sessions at underage level. 

bryan-cullen-and-michael-darragh-macauley-with-anthony-maher Macauley during his first All-Ireland final in 2011. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It showed the value in Ballyboden having good people involved, with a keen interest in keeping the children playing.

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“A guy called Eugene Kenny would have been one of his early mentors and he would have always spotted a huge talent in Michael Darragh,” continues O’Regan.

“Obviously would have been big into the basketball as well at the time but Euguene would have been one of the main guys trying to get him up out of the house to the club and keeping him interested in playing GAA through that time.

“And also in Ballyroan Boys School, Sheila Clear, one of the teachers there, would have been a huge influence [on him] I’m sure. She was his Gaelic football coach in the school had a keen interest in how he developed as a player. She would have been a key person in getting him into Ballyboden in the first place, with Eugene then keeping him involved.”

Over the years he battled many injuries. Given his role in the engine room and the combative nature of his game, it brought about plenty of knocks.

“He’s one guy who worked very hard for everything he’s got. When he did pick up injuries he worked hard in terms of getting back from them.

“He had different injuries that would have kept other people out but he worked hard on his own in trying different things, working with physios personally and with strength and conditioning coaches within the Dublin set-up.

“He squeezed everything out of his career. He didn’t let injuries hold him back even though he did pick up a few at not great times during his career. He certainly worked hard trying to get more out of his career.

“Even the whole thing about doing yoga and then he became a yoga instructor. That’s the level of detail he would have gone to in terms of trying to maximise his career.”

michael-darragh-macauley-with-seamus-oshea Mayo were regularly opponents of Macauley's in All-Ireland finals. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

During the first lockdown around May last year, this writer was exercising in Eamonn Ceannt Park in Crumlin at the same time Macauley and a friend were going through a running programme of their own. 

The duo were doing a few hill sprints near the end of their session when a youngster recognised the Dublin midfielder. By the time Macauley arrived down the hill for his next sprint the boy, who must have been around seven or eight, was standing there ready to join in. 

Unperturbed by the attention, Macauley shot the breeze with the boy and his father. This time when he took off, the youngster raced alongside him up the hill. This went on for the final handful of runs of Macauley’s session. The joy on the young supporter’s face was plain to see as he trained alongside one of the most decorated players in the game.

As they left the pitch, Macauley and his mate chatted away with the pair.

Without any airs or graces, it typified how the 6’3 midfielder has a great way with children. 

“He especially connected with the kids and the younger teams in the club,” says O’Regan.

“He’d be a regular visitor to our summer camps and obviously going around the schools with the Sam Maguire in October or November after Dublin would win an All-Ireland.

“He is a larger than life character who’d really make a connection with the kids and brought on the next generation of Ballyboden and hopefully Dublin players with him as well.”

They say the real test of someone’s character is how they treat the people who can’t do anything for them. Interacting with children or those less fortunate is always something that came naturally to Macauley.

His day job involves working on various regeneration projects in inner city communities that have been badly affected by crime and drugs.  

“On and off the pitch he has huge leadership qualities,” continues O’Regan.

“I’d see it around the club when he’d be dealing with medal presentations and talking to them. He wouldn’t be strictly talking about GAA or practicing the skills of the game, he’d talk about the enjoyment of the game, looking after yourself and the friends you’d make.

“He’d have been big into that, about the friends he made playing Gaelic football in Ballyboden in Eanna Basketball and how they’re still his friends all these years later. He’s a great guy to come out and talk to a group of young players even athletes about, on and off the pitch, getting the most out of yourself.

“It was no surprise then that he went into teaching first of all and then obviously he works with the Dublin City Council now and that job I think is very well suited to a guy like Michael Darragh who is a big, friendly presence but at the same time tries to get the best out of all the people around him. So well suited to a role like that.”

He’ll go down as one of Dublin’s greatest midfielders and inside the dressing room his influence and presence will be missed too. 

“Unfortunately in 2020 he was was unfortunate with injuries at both ends of the year. At the start and then again at the end the year, getting injured in the county final and missing out on a critical training period as well as a couple of National League matches before the championship started back in.

“It was such a tight season that it would be hard on anybody to miss that period of time to break into a team. 

“He was a huge leader amongst that group with a huge wealth of experience and a really good guy in terms of dealing with the younger players as well. He really connected with the younger players and taught them on and off the pitch.”

Not a bad legacy to leave behind.

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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