By John Scally
Dublin star Michael Darragh MacAuley follows the advice of Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
The 2013 Footballer of the Year, is a man with a strong social conscience. He is an ambassador for Concern.
His career is based on the empowering work that he does in the north inner city with the North Inner City Initiative. This initiative reaches out to people in these communities that he describes as “struggling through a river that people are swimming down and it can be a dangerous river.” His work is trying to give “branches for these children to cling onto along the river.”
MacAuley explains that it is good to find role models. He strives, through his work with North East Inner City Initiative to get as many people on a better road as possible through sustainable projects. It has a huge emphasis on educational programmes.
He explains that is really important when empowering people that, “You don’t just give them shiny things because they don’t feel a part of it. Give projects.”
For MacAuley, he wished for a career that he can sleep soundly at night.
Earlier in his career, he was told to retire at 20, due to an injury which led to a two-year break from football. In that two years he took an insurance job which taught him that he would never like to work a 9-5 desk job again. He always got along with kids and wished to be a primary school teacher. His own primary school teacher was somebody who changed “for the better” the course of his career.
So, he went back to college at 21 to study Irish, while at the same time he won the All-Ireland. Sadly, his dad passed away the first year of teacher training. He worked in a school in Tallaght filled with ideologies and “hoping to change the world.”
“It’s easy to be a bad teacher,” he muses, “but it takes effort and enthusiasm to be a good one.”
Michael Darragh 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. The former Jim Gavin regularly praised Kevin Heffernan’s team by suggesting his team are “standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“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.”
“I think that’s really important and a lot of us have a platform to be more socially conscious,” says the Dublin star.
“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 the town and elsewhere. In fairness, the lads do a lot but we try and encourage them to be as much of a role model and positive influence in their area 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.”
He has enjoyed a good life but it wasn’t all plain sailing either. He lost 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 of New York.
“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.”
When he’s asked about what makes this group that won the historic five-in-a-row so special, 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 reasons 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 it 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.”
Macauley, looks backs on a career that’s seen him win Footballer of the Year, seven 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 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 winning the 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. 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.”