Aisling Crowe caught up with Dublin footballer Michael Darragh Macauley ahead of what should be an epic All-Ireland semi final against Mayo on Sunday
September Sundays in Croke Park are what intercounty players live for and Dublin midfielder Michael Darragh Macauley is no different. The air of anticipation around the city is building ahead of Dublin’s semi final against Mayo next Sunday and preparations for the game are in full swing.
“Training’s been going very well. We got a lot out of the training camp in Kerry. At this time of year you are just dying to get out on the pitch and it’s been a long wait for the match and we are really looking forward to it. It’s the end of August, we are in an All-Ireland semi final and this is where we want to be at this time of year. Everyone’s looking forward to the adventure ahead,” Macauley said.
The reigning champions haven’t hit the heights of last year as they attempt to defend their crown. They have still done enough to win another Leinster title but their style hasn’t set the fans or pundits pulses racing yet. The forwards have been a cause for concern but footballer of the year Alan Brogan is reportedly fit to start on Sunday. Pat Gilroy has been fine tuning his Dublin scoring machine in training and Macauley feels that they are ready to ignite Dublin’s title defence.
“In all reality the performance levels aren’t where we would want them to be this season. I think we have had a lot of good performances. The backs have been solid and we have had some good performances in midfield. It’s not that the forwards haven’t played well, its just if we can get them to click a little bit better then it will lead to good things for Dublin. They have just been a fraction off or taking the wrong option so if we can get them to gel a little better it will be a huge spark for us.”
On a freezing Saturday night Ireland’s Six Nations game against France was called off at the last minute and the Dubs’ league encounter with Mayo was abandoned because of fog. Pat Gilroy’s men might have preferred to play through the gloom because when the match was eventually replayed the Connacht champions gave the All-Ireland winners a lesson in football. Macauley is still troubled by recollections of that game.
“I have vivid memories of the league game and they aren’t good ones to be honest. They were on top of us all over the park and there was nothing we could do about it. They are a really physical team and they really got in on top of us. They won the battle in midfield and they were very clinical in their finishing. It was a huge team performance from them and we couldn’t live with them on the day. It’s something that we are very aware of going into this weekend.”
There is a world of difference between murky March nights and sunny September Sundays but Donegal showed last weekend that league form can have a bearing on championship games. However Dublin are going to be a different proposition on Sunday from the team that travelled to Castlebar and there is far more at stake this weekend, with Sam Maguire on the line.
“That was the league, this is an All-Ireland semi final. We will take it up a notch now and we are expecting to bring the kind of performances we have had in training into the match. We have seen the performances Mayo have given this year and if we don’t give a hundred percent, if we are even a percentage off then we will be sitting down on Monday looking at what went wrong.”
The last time these counties met at this stage of the championship was six years ago. Dublin were overwhelming favourites but the underdogs prevailed. Mayo set the tone for that game by warming up in front of the hill and the memories of that clash will be dredged up by supporters on both coasts this week, looking for motivation or proof that the odds can be beaten once again. Macauley has his own memories of that defeat but feels the league game from this year is the motivating factor that Dublin will use.
“It’s a very different panel of lads from 2006. I was standing in Hill 16 watching that match and it was my worst day as a Dublin fan I don’t think lads are really drawing on that. If they are thinking about anything it is the league game from this year, which is still very fresh in the memory.”
Dublin’s lacklustre season so far has led many to question the champions’ desire for glory and the Ballyboden St Enda’s man believes that the answers all those critics seek will be found by five o’clock on Sunday.
“It is a huge commitment trying to retain the All-Ireland title and the hunger has to be there. Our desire gets questioned time and time again and the only way we can answer any questions about our hunger is by delivering on Sunday. We will find out on Sunday if the hunger is there.”