Michael Darragh Macauley on edge as penultimate hurdle looms again

In his glittering 31-game Championship career with Dublin, Michael Darragh Macauley has experienced defeat just four times, three of those coming in All-Ireland semi-finals.

That statistic alone probably explains why the barrel chested, experienced midfielder speaks so passionately of his distaste for losing at the penultimate stage of the Championship.

The numbers game at least stacks up in Dublin’s favour ahead of their latest last four clash this weekend, against Mayo.

Starting in 2010, when Macauley made his debut, they have engaged in an intriguing sequence of losing semi-finals before bouncing back the following year with All-Ireland title wins.

Going on that six-season long pattern, and considering Dublin lost so painfully at this stage last year to Donegal, another Sam Maguire success story may be in the offing.

Macauley, whose own starting place is in jeopardy after being dropped for the quarter-final win over Fermanagh, is adamant that he simply wants to get past the last-four hurdle.

After that, the 2013 Footballer of the Year will happily take his chances and even if they were to lose a decider to Kerry, they’d at least have got to savour the occasion.

“Losing a semi-final, I’ve always said it, it’s just the worst place to be,” said Macauley. “I’d prefer to lose an All-Ireland final, an All-Ireland quarter-final even, than lose a semi-final.

“There’s just something about it, about knowing you’re not going to be involved on the big day.

“I found it very tough to watch the All-Ireland final day go by when we lost our semi-finals. It’s definitely still fresh in our heads, losing that Donegal match last year and I might have to have a little reminder to myself of it over the next few days, just to kind of remember how unhappy we were after that match last year.

“I think it’s no harm to do that. Hopefully that brings the sort of resolve that can drive you on in the last few minutes of this semi-final, which is what we’re going to need.”

Since breaking into the Dublin in 2010, Macauley has played in five consecutive semi-finals.

The 2010 and 2011 semi-finals were both won by a point, Dublin lost to Mayo by three in 2012 and while they overcame Kerry by seven in 2013, that game was famously all square with 70 minutes on the clock. The Ballyboden St Enda’s club man is treating last year’s surprise six-point loss to Donegal as an aberration and predicts another tight encounter.

“I suppose the common denominator in all those semi-finals is that they were all tough games,” he said. “We’ve never won a semi-final easily and never lost one by a whole lot either.

“That’s one thing that we know about this game, it’s going to be a stormy sea and we have to be ready for that.”

Right about now Macauley will be nervously awaiting news of Dublin’s line-up for the contest, which is expected to be named tonight. He was named to face Fermanagh in the quarter-finals but, presumably sparing him a public humiliation days before the game, manager Jim Gavin only confirmed Denis Bastick as the actual starter minutes before throw-in.

It was the first time in five years Macauley was axed due to form though the intervening four weeks have allowed him to attack training with gusto and press his case for inclusion.

While Bastick directly replaced him against Fermanagh, the player who has effectively displaced him is Brian Fenton, the rookie from Raheny who is one of 10 players to start every game for Dublin this summer.

“He’s had a super year,” said Macauley. “I suppose I probably would be a little bit surprised in terms of just how much he has come on from the start of the season, and even in the middle of the season he’s come on in leaps and bounds again. But it’s a big plus for Dublin and I’m not saying that with any sort of jealousy because I wasn’t starting the last day. We genuinely need more midfielders in the Dublin team.”

As for his own game, Macauley is confident that he can still trouble teams with his trademark barnstorming runs that so often end in fisted points or scores for his colleagues.

“Players can know what you’re going to do but if you can still go by them, then you can still go by them,” he said, rejecting the argument that his style has effectively been found out after several seasons.

“They’re going to be doing well to catch you. I think it’s just my own personal thing at the minute, to step up to the plate.”


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