MICHAEL DARA MACAULEY will need to have plenty in the tank when he steps out under the Croke Park lights for tonight’s All-Ireland football quarter-finals.
Dublin are hot favourites to take another step forward in defence of their crown against Laois but the Ballyboden St Enda’s clubman was given a sharp reminder earlier this week that the champions can’t afford to get caught short on gas.
Dubs team-mates Kevin McManamon and Eoghan O’Gara were summoned to the rescue on Wednesday afternoon when MacAuley’s car ran out of petrol, leaving him stranded on the M50.
“Kevin Mac was my knight in shining armour,” he tells TheScore.ie. “He came to pick me up.”
“I was stuck there for a good while. I was late for a meeting here. Kevin came and got me and then O’Gara dropped me back so I needed help.
“You can go for ages on that [warning] light. It was on zero for ages — but then it eventually ran out.”
MacAuley won’t be so blasé about ignoring any warning signs when he takes to the pitch in Headquarters tonight. Traditionally found at home in midfield, he wears the number 14 again following a successful audition in the Leinster SFC final win against Meath.
Despite the number on his back it wasn’t a traditional full-forward’s role, he laughs.
I was kind of playing in the half-forward line. It was probably the worst-kept secret that I wasn’t full-forward. I was there for about five minutes but I am used to attacking as a midfielder anyway and it eased me of a few of the defensive responsibilities.
It leaves me space to go forward. I enjoyed it. I am happy to be anywhere on the pitch. I played centre-forward for Ballyboden for years and for UCD so it isn’t exactly a whole new thing for me even if it is for Dublin.
“It definitely took it out of me,” he adds. “I think it was just the hot weather and I probably did cover a lot of ground. I was stiff and I was in the ice baths the following afternoon.
With three games and three wins standing between this current crop of Dub stars and the capital’s first back-t0-back All-Irelands since 1977, the volume and quality of the players at Gilroy’s disposal has been one of the squad’s key assets.
Competition is fierce though and, if he can make this new hybrid role his own, MacAuley knows that versatility will be a huge personal boost.
“I might try my hand at goalkeeper as well, kick Cluxton out of there,” he jokes. “The competition is huge all over the pitch.
When I was injured and the two lads [Eamon Fennell and Denis Bastick] came into midfield they did a great job there and you just couldn’t move them. You need that. Teams won’t go anywhere if you don’t have that sort of competition.
You see with Kevin Mac not starting [today vs Laois] how good the competition is. He was man of the match the first two games and now he can’t get the start. That’s how close it is for a starting spot. It really is a whisker or a kick or two in training.
After ending their 16-year famine last September, fans and analysts have questioned whether or not Dublin will have the same hunger and drive second time around. On paper, Gilroy’s men appear to have been given the easier path through to the final, avoiding Kerry, Cork, Donegal and Galway in the quarter- and semi-finals.
Asked about the generosity of the draw, MacAuley’s mantra is hardly surprising and he is adamant that they won’t be taking Laois lightly tonight.
“I don’t how many cliches can I give you when I say this but we’re only looking at one game at a time. We’re hardly going to look at an All-Ireland final or anywhere near it. Laois have been far too good to look past them. I know the bigger names are on the other side but we’re definitely not going to look at that. How many did I get in there? Two was it? Fill in a few more yourself there.
“Laois are going to be a huge threat,” he continues. “They have kind of had a similar season to us. They have been stop and start but they have got a bit of momentum now and we will be writing them off at our peril.
“They have played some great football this year at times. We will be expecting a huge game.”