Macauley: Basketball years have stood to me
Michael Darragh Macauley believes his years of playing basketball at schools and club level have played an important part in making him the All-Ireland and All-Star-winning Gaelic footballer he is today.
The Dublin midfielder, who is deep in preparations for Sunday's All-Ireland SFC final against Mayo, first came to sporting prominence as a young basketballer.
Macauley played hoops with distinction for Coláiste Éanna and Notre Dame, earning All-Ireland medals and Ireland underage international honours, before football became his main focus with Ballyboden St. Enda's and Dublin.
"I have a good few years of basketball behind me which I would say have definitely stood to me as a Gaelic footballer," Macauley told Newstalk's 'Off The Ball' programme, when asked about transferring some of those skills to the football pitch.
"I don't think I'd be here preparing for an another All-Ireland final if I didn't play basketball as a child, it probably has given me a little something extra that I mightn't have developed just playing Gaelic football.
"I'm very grateful of that, that it has stood with me. I'll maybe try and keep it up in the off-season to try and give me a few new tricks next year."
Noted as a late developer in football terms, the Ballyroan native made his senior bow for Dublin in 2009 and has gone on to become a centre-field fixture in recent years.
2011 saw him help the Dubs win the Sam Maguire Cup and claim his first All-Star award, while he has collected National League and Leinster SFC winners' medals already this season.
Macauley's 6ft 5in frame and quick footwork, allied to his fielding skills, strong running ability and endurance, have marked him out as one of the leading midfielders in the country and a serious contender for the 2013 Footballer of the Year gong.
The road he has taken from basketball to the top rung of Gaelic footballer has been travelled before, this weekend's opponents Mayo boasting of course the legendary Liam McHale who produced some towering Super League performances for Ballina in the 1980s and 1990s.
"Liam (McHale) was, I think, the original one to do it (combine the two sports). There's been a good few since with Ronan McGarrity, Kieran Donaghy and Michael Quirke...there's a few lads who have done it.
"I'd definitely encourage kids to get out there and play as many sports as they can, particularly basketball because it's helped my footwork and handling skills no end," added Macauley.
Of his own journey to football via the basketball court, the 27-year-old revealed: "Every Gaelic coach that ever got their hands on me, all they ever said was, 'will ya ever give up that 'oul basketball, will ya?'. If I had done what they said and given up the basketball, I wouldn't be sitting here.
"It's really important. I won't start preaching now but kids should get out there and get involved in whatever their passion is."
The Dubs' class of 2013, under the tutelage of first-year manager Jim Gavin, have seen some new heroes come to the fore - not least the likes of youngsters Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and Ciaran Kilkenny.
Gavin has made some subtle changes to the style of football the Leinster kingpins played under previous boss Pat Gilroy, with Macauley explaining: "People's perceptions from outside are that we are playing a different style of football, and I suppose that is true.
"It is a bit more free-flowing. Maybe it kinda suits my style a little better in that I like to go forward a bit more than your average midfielder.
"Look, it's working well. I'm happy with how it's going at the moment and I hope it keeps up for the next while."
Gavin has adopted an almost Zen-like presence on the sidelines through Dublin's journey through to the All-Ireland decider, and his unruffled state is very much a continuation of how he is behind the scenes.
"Jim is cool, calm and collected about things. he never gets too upset or lose the rag about things. He's very measured and concentrated about what he does. he's very prepare and organised about what he does and he's doing a very good job," offered Macauley.
And what of Mayo, the Connacht champions and the All-Ireland bridesmaids on five separate occasions since 1996 - the Ballyboden clubman reckons the Dubs will have to be at their best to get a result on Sunday afternoon.
"Mayo have been a free-scoring team, it's been very impressive to see. Without talking them up, I've been impressed with the (O'Shea) brothers in midfield. We're going to have to be at our best to find weaknesses to exploit."