Top flight football is where silverware is won: Cavan ace Cian Mackey
CIAN Mackey wants another crack at top flight football and believes it's the only place to be for Cavan to get their hands on an Ulster title.
The Castlerahan clubman has been playing 14 years with the Breffni men and sampled Division One football for the first time last season.
However, a poor start to their campaign saw them relegated back to Division Two – but the Breffni men have their eyes fixed on a quick return to Division One and currently occupy one of the promotion berths with two games remaining against Roscommon (a) and Tipperary (h).
“Last year was a big thing,” said Mackey.
“I'm playing 14 years and never played up there [until last season] so it was a big thing for us and a learning curve as well.
“We only started to get to grips with it towards the end of our campaign. We lost games and drew games early in the campaign and maybe if we were more experienced we could have got an extra two points here or there and maybe stayed up. But, look, we're not looking further than our nose.
“We wanted to get ourselves up to nine points [against Down] – it's Roscommon next and that's all we're looking at.”
One of the leading lights of Ulster football for the last number of years, Mackey still harbours ambitions of winning an Ulster title before he retires from the inter-county scene.
He cites neighbours Monaghan winning the Anglo-Celt Cup from Division Three in 2013 but generally feels the provincial victors have to be playing at a higher level in spring time.
“I think to be in Division One brings on the team and the county as a whole,” said Mackey.
“You look at Monaghan there and they won Ulster from Division Three so it is possible to do it. [But] to be able to sustain it and build a team I think you have to be around Division One – you have to be playing the best teams week in week out.
“A flash in the pan when you're in Division Three could happen but if you want to sustain it like Monaghan have you have to be up in the top division and that's where they are. So we have to be replicating that.”
Once dubbed the “Black Death” by pundit Joe Brolly for their ultra-defensive approach several seasons ago, Cavan have since evolved and are undoubtedly more attack-minded under Tyrone man Mattie McGleenan.
It was noteworthy the amount of times the Cavan full-back line were exposed in the first half of last Saturday night's encounter against Down.
The Mournemen found their inside men Connaire Harrison and Donal O'Hare with ease and surprising regularity with Cavan operating a loose sweeper system.”
But Mackey insists that attacking teams and perhaps leaving themselves exposed at the back is a risk worth taking.
“We want to play an attacking brand of football. That's the way the game has gone. You have to be able to attack and kick scores and Mattie backs every man to be able to kick the scores. We had something like 11 or 12 lads who scored against Cork and 10 scored against Down.
“We're fairly confident if anyone's within 35 metres they're confident of kicking a score. It's a good way to be. In terms of the sweeper, it's all about honesty when we're defending.
“If there's a space to be covered and you see it, you have to get to it. If you're not willing to do that there's no point in playing for Cavan.”
The Dr McKenna Cup has unearthed some excellent new additions to McGleenan's squad. Bryan Magee has impressed in a number of positions and has been assigned free-taking duties from the left side.
Oisin Kiernan has done well at wing-forward, while corner-forward Caoimhin O'Reilly was a thorn in Down's side. And Ramor United's Conor Bradley hit two points after being introduced for Conor Moynagh on 46 minutes last weekend.
“They're all good, honest lads,” said Mackey.
“All the young lads are willing to learn, so that's a good thing. There's no-one coming in too big for their boots. You have Caoimhin O'Reilly coming in and kicking scores and is as down to earth as you could get. If a player got too big for their boots he'd be chopped down very quickly in our dressing-room.”
Down may have kicked themselves out of it last weekend but Cavan's game management in the second half – and Mackey's decision-making – saw them grab four of the last five scores in a game that could have gone either way.
“We were a bit annoyed at ourselves at half-time, we weren't playing to our potential,” said Mackey.
“We feel that we've raised it over the last couple of weeks and we're playing better football.
“But the first half against Down we weren't even close to it. To be fair that could have been because of Down; they came out and performed really well. If we want to improve we can't be letting other teams dictate the pace of games - we have to dictate it. And I think in the second half we did that.”