By Niall Gartland
IN hindsight, Cian Mackey is grateful that his previous Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan “dragged” him home from London.
Mackey gave serious consideration to retirement after the 2017 season ended. His reputation as one of the finest Cavan players of any generation preceded him, but a round two qualifier exit to Tipperary seemed to suggest that things weren’t going to get better any time soon.
The evergreen forward had plugged away during the so-called ‘black death’ years, followed by McGleenan’s difficult two-year tenure, and that’s not to mention his almost inexplicable run of bad luck with the nearly men of Cavan football, Castlerahan.
It’s little wonder then that he was thinking about throwing the towel in after more than a decade’s service with Cavan.
Mackey said: “I was over two years ago in London and Mattie dragged me home. I was thinking of staying but coming home in hindsight was a great thing.
“At the time things weren’t going great and you’re kind of thinking there’s more to life than football. Those thoughts go through every footballers’ head when you’re not winning anything but it’s great now being home.”
His decision to stay has been more than vindicated by the events of the past 12 months.
Castlerahan, who had lost four senior championship finals already this decade, finally reached the promised land to claim their first ever St Oliver Plunkett Cup with a comeback victory over Castlerahan, and his luck finally seems to have turned with Cavan as well.
Mackey, who is now in his 15th season on the intercounty set-up, says Castlerahan’s deliverance has had a positive knock-on impact on the Cavan team as well. Positivity is the name of the game now.
“A turning point in the last final was when we went six down and we thought let’s just go for it – it changed our mentality as in why not go for it all the time.
“Some of the Castlerahan boys brought it into the county set up, that’s how we play with Cavan now too.
“ There’s no point sitting back and defending a lead, those days are gone, you have to go out to win a game, not to avoid losing. I think that was a big thing with our club and we’ve embraced it I think with Cavan as well.”
Mackey has been restricted to a substitute role en route to Cavan’s first Ulster Championship final appearance since 1997, but he’s still contributed as much as anyone to their memorable run to the decider.
He himself insists he still has the energy levels for a starting berth, but ultimately it’ll be up to Mickey Graham to determine his role this Sunday.
“You want to play as much as you can. If I was asked to start I’d be delighted but that’s the role I’m in at the minute. I’d take his hand off to start in the Ulster final.
“I feel I’ve the legs but he might feel I’ve a better impact coming on, I started some games in the league so it’s a horses for courses thing.”
Mackey’s mental strength is encapsulated by his attitude to missing a chance to kick the winner in their semi-final drawn encounter against Armagh.
He’d already hit three points, so nobody was too sore on him anyway, but there was another reason why he was able to put a positive spin on things.
“It took me until Wednesday to come to terms with it as it was probably the easiest of the lot to score, but I was told that if I’d scored Holla (Ciaran Brady, who’d been red carded] would have missed the Ulster final.
“The boys joked that I did it for Holla and that made it a wee bit easier. Once we got over the line the second day out I didn’t feel so bad but it did take a couple of days to get over that.”
Cavan were well-beaten by Donegal in last year’s preliminary round so Mackey is conscious that they can’t let their talented opponents get a run of them on Sunday.
“We didn’t have a great performance that day and Donegal were very good that day, you can get Donegal on days like that. They’re outstanding when they click, it was a tough couple of days after that because we took a good clipping.
“We regrouped after that and ended up losing to Tyrone by a few points and they were eventual All-Ireland finalists, you have to take it on the chin. If you’re under-par Donegal can wipe the floor with you.”