‘A lot of us have a platform to be more socially conscious. I’d love to see the lads doing even more’

ASK MOST DUBLIN players about their upcoming shot at history and they’ll give a stock answer along the lines of: “We never look at anything ‘in-a-row’. We just focus on the next game.”

Michael Darragh Macauley tends to do things a little bit differently. 

Michael Darragh MacAuley at the Dublin press night.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Are we going for the five-in-a-row?” he laughs before breaking into a story that sums up his approach to football and, perhaps, life too.

“I was walking down Baggot Street the other day and there was a flower salesman and he said, ‘There’s Michael Darragh.’ I was with a friend and he (the salesman) said, ‘You know if I ask Michael Darragh a question now, he’ll tell me two answers.’

“I didn’t even talk and my friend didn’t talk. And he said, ‘If I ask Michael Darragh what would it mean to win Sam Maguire this year, he’d tell me it means everything and it means nothing.’

“And so I gave a smile and went on my way, I wasn’t even chatting to him. So I suppose that sums it up!”

Naturally, Macauley speaks more freely when it comes to topics away from the football field. His day job is as sports and engagement manager with the North East Inner City Initiative, working on various regeneration projects in communities that have been badly affected by crime and drugs. 

He credits the links between the current Dublin squad and the ground-breaking Sky Blues side of the 1970s for helping to awaken his social conscience. Jim Gavin regularly gives a nod to Kevin Heffernan’s team by suggesting his team are “standing on the shoulders of giants”. 

In the run-up to last year’s All-Ireland final, Gavin introduced Anton O’Toole to the panel and backroom team, outlining his importance to Dublin GAA. At O’Toole’s funeral in May, John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny and Niall Scully were among the men who shouldered the coffin on his final journey. 

Not alone did the 1970s team win multiple All-Irelands and ignite a GAA revolution in the capital, they taught plenty of lessons off the pitch too. 

“It was definitely sold to me how socially conscious a lot of the Dublin team of the ’70s were,” says Macauley. “Even from speaking to them, they were aware of that higher purpose with the Dublin team and that there was more to life than football.

“That kind of stuck with me as well.”

Michael Darragh MacAuley before playing Tyrone in the league.

Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Macauley is not alone in working with those less fortunate. For all the talk of financial and population advantages, this Dublin crew are a socially conscious bunch.

Dean Rock works as fundraising manager for with Stewarts Care, one of the biggest disability organisations in the country. He initially coached swimming and athletics to people with special needs, before assuming his current role.

Philly McMahon has been outspoken on a number of social problems in Dublin and is an advocate for the decriminalisation of drugs in Ireland. He used his platform to set-up his Half-Time Talk charity designed to educate and empower young and unemployed adults in disadvantaged areas and also runs a fitness programme for inmates in Mountjoy Prison.

“I think that’s really important and a lot of us have a platform to be more socially conscious,” says Macauley.

“I’d love to see the lads doing even more so because some of the Dublin lads mightn’t even know how much of a role model they are to some of the kids in and around town and elsewhere.

“In fairness, lads do a lot but we try and encourage them to be as much of a role model and positive influence in their areas as they can be. I think some people even coming onto the team mightn’t realise how powerful their voice is. We’re trying to definitely get that point across.” 

Michael Darragh MacAuley arrives ahead of the Super 8s clash in Omagh.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

His own work brings him into contact with people from disadvantaged areas through a wide range of services they provide, from drugs and homeless projects to initiatives in sport and arts. Earlier this month, the final of the ‘Gah for Mas’ scheme took place between Ballybough and Sheriff Street in O’Connell’s School, a Gaelic football initiative played on astroturf that has proved a huge hit with local mothers.

Other recent offerings in the inner-city include a free 10-week health and wellbeing programme for men over 30 and a free eight-week boxing course for girls and women.

“I’m involved in sports and other community bits,” he explains. “It’s been a brilliant experience for me. I’ve left teaching I’m being seconded at the moment and I’m taking up that role.

“It’s great, subsequently I’ve realised how many role models I had growing up and there’s a lot of people that are lacking role models in certain areas around town.

Hakuna Matata https://t.co/lIzIRzMNQl

— Michael D Macauley (@MDMA_9) August 13, 2019

“We’re just trying to give people as many opportunities through sport and different projects to get involved and stay on the straight and narrow. And just to give them as many opportunities as we can.”

He enjoyed a good upbringing but it wasn’t all plain sailing either. He’s spoken in the past about the pain of losing his mother to lung cancer when he was 12, while his father passed away in 2012 just 10 days after he returned from the All-Star tour to New York.

Still, Macauley is self-aware enough to recognise he was fortunate to grow up in a part of south Dublin that’s far removed from the crime and urban decay can be rife in the northside inner city.

“I took for granted that I had role models, with my football team we had different people, I had a good family structure around me.

“When people don’t have those things, don’t have the family structure I had or don’t have the support from different clubs it’s easy for them to stray off the path and go down a more dangerous route. You see it all along.

Michael Darragh Macauley in action against Mayo in the semi-final.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“What we’re trying to do is give them sport as an opportunity just to stay on that path. There’s obviously physical and mental health benefits but also there’s social as well.

“Particularly I’d love to see more people get involved in team sports as well. It’s benefited me so much, I’d still have that circles of friends that I was playing with in school when I was eight or nine years old and a lot of them are still around today and I’ve been to war and back with them. That’s the nature of what we’re at at the moment.”

His profile as a Dublin footballer helps “getting a foot in the door with someone” but he admits “if you’re talking nonsense to them they’ll quickly be able to brush you aside.”

“The Dublin thing probably has given me an in to talk to a lot of them,” he says. “But it’s what you do with it then. We’re just trying to create opportunities for them, help them grow and life as purposeful a life as possible.

“I’ve always been involved with teaching and sports, outside of sports as well. I’ve been working with special needs kids for years and mainstream teaching as well. So that’s where I get my kicks, seeing people develop and grow. I enjoy that side of it.”

It all feeds back into his football career. The All-Black mantra that “better people make better players” and the “no dickheads rule” rings true when it comes to this all-conquering Dublin team. 

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Michael Darragh Macauley smashes into Diarmuid O’Connor of Mayo.

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s huge, huge. I think it’s massive personally. I don’t know how teams can function if they have someone who’s maybe too egotistical or looking out for their own interests.

“Sometimes I wonder how the dressing rooms look in the Premier League with all the ego that’s involved over there. It must be a strange atmosphere so I think there’s good group involved here with the Dublin dressing room at the moment so long may it continue.”

When he’s asked about what makes this group that’s standing on the verge of history so special, it’s not surprising that Macauley references the humility of the individuals involved.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it. The group is an impressive group of human beings in that I think people are aware that there’s a higher purpose than themselves or the team.

“If individuals come into the team and thought they were bigger for any reason than the team, they’d be quickly weeded out. So I think that’s definitely been the crux that we fall on, that we all know that we’re doing for something bigger than us.

“We self-police that at this stage and that creates a humility around the squad that’s badly needed in any team.”

The team parade ahead of the semi-final.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Macauley, who turned 33 last Wednesday, is “grateful” for an inter-county career that’s seen him win Footballer of the Year, six All-Irelands and two All-Stars. 

“I’ve had a very good run at it. I’ve had different goals, coming into the team straight away when I was just a fan on Hill 16 I was like, ‘It would be great just to get on the pitch, even if I could come on as a sub and tick that box that’d be great to say I played in Croke Park.’

“Then I suppose we moved the goalposts out and that became a reality. I was like, ‘It would be nice to start a game.’ Then it was, ‘It would be nice to win a Leinster.’ Then, ‘It’d be nice to win an All-Ireland.’ And here we are going for number seven.

“So in that respect, the goalposts keep changing and we just keep growing as we go along. I’m not stupid, I know we’ve had a very successful run at it so far and we’re just trying to squeeze the last bit out of it now.”

If Dublin do beat Kerry to claim the five-in-a-row on Sunday, there may well be a raft of retirements over the winter, Macauley included. 

“You don’t know when they’re going to come around again,” he admits. “This is my seventh All-Ireland final, is it?

“I suppose I didn’t think I’d be playing in so many All-Ireland finals if you had asked me a decade ago so we’ve had a nice run. You definitely just embrace it.

“I don’t know how many more are coming down the tracks so I’ll definitely enjoy this one for sure.” 

The flower salesman on Baggott Street would agree with that advice.

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