Conal Keaney has hailed his Ballyboden St Enda’s club-mate Michael Darragh Macauley as one of Gaelic football’s greatest ever midfielders following his inter-county retirement.
In understated fashion, Dublin’s eight-time All-Ireland SFC winner Macauley confirmed his decision on social media - “Sin é uaimse. Míle buíochas ó chroí”. The 2013 footballer of the year also claimed five National Leagues, 10 Leinsters and two All-Stars.
Keaney will wait until the clamour dies down before personally congratulating 34-year-old Macauley on a remarkable career that currently sees him share the joint highest total of Celtic Crosses with five Kerry men and six of his Dublin team-mates.
“He’s probably getting hundreds of messages at the moment but you’re better off ringing a lad and saying what you have to say when sending a text is too easy,” says Keaney who played alongside him in county colours in 2009 and ‘10.
“Look, what a servant he has been for Dublin. Some change from his first day training with his and turning up with pink laces. Everybody was saying, ‘Who is this lad?’ He couldn’t do anything right. To be fair to him, he totally changed, revamped his game. Obviously, Pat (Gilroy) helped him with a lot and he transformed into one of the best midfielders ever to play the game.
“He was something different. He wasn’t conventional. He was up and down and doing everything. The way the game was moving suited him because it was becoming more fast-paced and frenetic. Even with the club he’s changed a lot.
A rough diamond in those early Dublin years, Keaney was always impressed by how far Macauley was willing to go to improve his game. “Unbelievably strong. You’d know just by looking at him. Outside of training, he’d be constantly doing things to try and give him the edge of everyone else. He obviously does the yoga but even if he was sitting in a meeting he would never be still. He was always moving around doing some sort of stretching.
“To play in midfield these days, you have to be incredibly strong and he nearly started that trend of going from one end of the field to the other while being able to catch ball and mixing it with the opposition.”
Hailing him as “an absolute gent” as well, Keaney prefers to consider Macauley not just for one moment but what he contributed for county and club overall. “He’s done it all. You think of all the big scores Dublin have got, he’s always knocking around there or has been involved in the build-up. He hasn’t kicked many scores but he fisted a lot of them.
“The easiest moment to pick out is the fist he got in 2013 against Kerry (to set up Kevin McManamon’s goal) but when I think of Mick Macauley I think of the hard work he does without the ball, the amount of tackles he gets in and his success in getting the ball off people.
"That may be a basketball thing but he tackles ferociously hard with those huge forearms and all of a sudden the ball pops out and he or a team-mate has it. Nine times out of 10 he would rip it that way. He’s just savage. You notice it at inter-county level but at club level it becomes so obvious.”
Including Ballyboden’s annexing of the Andy Merrigan Cup in 2016, Macauley is a nine-time All-Ireland winner and Keaney hopes he will be able to commit to the club for a little longer to add to his three county titles, two Leinsters and that famous win over Castlebar Mitchels almost five years ago.
“He was probably frustrated with the injuries the last few years and not getting the same amount of game-time as before but a massive servant to Dublin, and I just hope we get a couple more years out of him with the club. It would nice to win another county with the club and maybe even another All-Ireland.”
Meanwhile, Paul Mannion will not be part of the Dublin panel this coming season. The three-time All-Star, 27, was a substitute during the last championship.