From the surfer town of Hikkaduwa on the south coast of Sri Lanka, Michael Darragh Macauley has been keeping up with the national conversation in Ireland prompted by the murder of Ashling Murphy.
This Thursday, Macauley's life on and off the Gaelic football pitch is the subject of the latest episode of TG4's Laochra Gael series. In it, the former Dublin footballer explains how the death of his mother Rosaleen when he was 12 led to his father sending him to Blackrock College.
Though his family lived in Rathfarnham, Macauley attended the school as a boarder in his early teens. He saw the impact going to single-sex school can have on how young men view women.
"I’d be totally in favour of mixed schools," Macauley, who has worked as a teacher, told Balls.
"I’ve taught in same-sex schools and mixed schools, and it’s a much healthier relationship to have with the opposite gender when they are mixed. I’d definitely encourage that. I think all things should be on the table in terms of this conversation, but I think a mixed school leads to a much healthier relationship.
"You're just getting one angle of thinking [in a single-sex school]. You're just getting that male-dominated way of thinking, and you think that's the way to go about the world. Some people would have different amounts of female friends outside [of school], but it's going to be dominated by your school environment.
"I left and went to a mixed school in fifth year. I had a completely different spin on things. It was a much healthier relationship to have.
"If I ever spawn one of these small humans, they will be going to a mixed school."
— Laochra Gael (@Laochra_Gael) January 17, 2022
Macauley has been travelling for the last five or so months. He hiked the Dolomite mountains, went on to Montenegro, Albania and Serbia, spent a month surfing in Morocco, and did a two-week trek around the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. "I’ve kind of got caught in Sri Lanka for the last while because India won’t let me in," he says, "but yeah, could be worse places to be stuck." While away, he's continued to contribute to his job as a community sports engagement manager with Dublin's North East Inner City.
It's a year since the Ballyboden St Endas midfielder called time on an inter-county career which saw him win eight All-Ireland titles. He has "zero regrets" about that decision, even though "physically, possibly I had another year left in me". He also has no qualms about being absent as Ballyboden lost to Kilmacud Crokes in the Dublin semi-final.
"I left before the second half of the championship," he says.
"It’s tough. That’s something I haven’t done for 16 years of playing football, I’ve never left Declan O’Mahony hanging in midfield.
"The likes of him and [Conal] Keaney – and everyone else we soldiered with – I’ve been there for so long. It is what it is. How many times have I turned down going travelling?
"It’s just the way the cards fell. It was just time to get away. No one knew what was going to happen with Covid. It wasn’t a case of if I delayed it a week or two I was going to be able to play championship. It wasn’t a tough decision in the end."
Dude pulled up next to me today and said “wanna buy a tuna?”. After little contemplation, I didn’t buy the tuna 🐟🇱🇰 pic.twitter.com/kghv8rMap3
— Michael D Macauley (@MDMA_9) December 15, 2021
There was always a perception that Macauley didn't take football particularly seriously, a curious notion considering the incredible success and longevity that he enjoyed. It's a contradiction which Macauley sees in himself, and finds hard to resolve.
In the Laochra Gael episode, he admits that after being told he was going to be marked by Aidan O'Mahony in his 2010 Dublin debut, he had to Google the Kerryman. After Macauley's retirement last year, Joe Brolly's Sunday Independent column which followed began with a story about how the Dubliner forgot to pack his boots for the 2011 All-Ireland final. He had to borrow Pat Gilroy's went the tale. "Joe is a gas man," says Macauley, "the story he told is true, but it was not in the game he said, so there is a little bit of truth in everything.
"There is that kind of laid back thing which has been associated with me before, but anyone who knows me as well will tell you that I can be very intense about things and very competitive, and have a huge will to win.
"Like, I’ve seen that conflict in myself at times and I don’t know where I sit on it sometimes. I was never laid back going to training. Like, I tried my ass off in training. I tried my ass off in between every single training session, so I wasn’t laid back whenever it comes to the physicality part of it and being a top performer in football and life, that wasn’t something I was laid back about.
"I always had a bit of wanderlust in me and I saw all my mates travelling around the world, here, there and everywhere during their 20s and I never got to do it. And that is where the contradictions come in about being laid back about football: If I was laid back about my football I would have done it - I would have walked away a couple of times as you have seen some players do. I didn’t because I was so competitive that I wanted to stick it out.
"It was always something I wanted to do, I didn’t know where or when or how it was going to happen but with time going on I managed to do it."
After hanging up his Dublin boots, Macauley's plan was to get back with his first love, basketball, and play at a high level in Ireland. Covid-19 meant that ambition didn't get out of the blocks until it was too late and he'd already booked flights.
Before he did depart Ireland, Macauley was in Croke Park for the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo as Dublin suffered their first championship defeat since 2014.
"It's weird," he says.
"That was my first game back, the Mayo game. Maybe I should stay away!
"It was a strange relationship, going back into it as a supporter again. It's something that I said I looked forward to for so long.
"It was shit, but I wouldn't dwell on it. I didn't dwell on it when I lost as a player, I won't dwell on it when I lose as a fan.
"The lads know they weren't good enough on the day. It just encouraged them to go away and work harder. That's what it would do with me as a player. As a fan, I was able to compartmentalise that sort of stuff. I wasn't going home punching walls or anything. That's just sport. I never treated it as more than that.
"It's made the story much more interesting for the lads. It's going to be a fun season ahead."
When he'll be home, Macauley isn't sure. "That’s a good question now," he says, "but I don’t have the answer."
This is what he does know:
"I distinctly remember saying that I'm going to wait until I'm a fat aul lad at the bar, and then I can tell everyone about my medals. I'm in the process of doing that," he says.
"It's sunk in nicely. In different ways, it's been nice to reflect on it. I've definitely let it in more. It's nice to see what it meant to people. They're still having conversations about what that team meant to people. They're the nice things. As usual, we don't know where the medals are, and all that sort of craic. They're not in any sort of fancy boxes.
"When people talk to me about the amount of medals I have, and blah, blah, blah. It's like shoot away, shoot away. I would encourage anyone to do that, [to dismiss it]. It's smart, anyone who gets caught up in their own bullshit won't last very long. I don't dwell on it.
Michael Darragh Macauley's episode of Laochra Gael airs Janaury 20th at 9:30pm on TG4.