GAA Football

Cian Mackey has had 12 Ulster SFC campaigns without success. Can the Cavan star make it lucky 13 this year?

Kevin Carney

Lucky for some 13?

Cian Mackey has 12 Ulster SFC campaigns without success under his belt. Can the Cavan playmaker made it lucky 13 this year?

It’s only May but it’s Hotter than July and the flame-haired Cavan ace getting into the car is red-faced and glad to get out from underneath the burning sun.

Cian Mackey has been appointed by Cavan boss Mattie McGleenan to be the blues’ ambassador for the launch of the 2017 Ulster SFC and he’s soon on the road across the border.

In due course, he’ll be bumping into Tyrone folk; the first time he’s done so since he scored 1-3 during the course of Cavan’s ground-breaking 2-17 to 5-18 defeat to Mickey Harte’s side in last year’s Ulster SFC semi-final.

Donegal and Monaghan may be short odds favourites to be the first to climb the summit come July 16th next but, in Mackey’s mind, the O’Neill county men remain the brand leaders in the province:

“Ulster is by far the toughest province to win and the amount of teams who’ve won it over the last 10 years or so goes to prove that point,” the 29-year old Castlerahan clubman opines.

“We played Tyrone three times last year, including the Division Two final, and again in the McKenna Cup last January and they’re a very good squad. They have some class players. Pundits will all have different views and some will fancy Donegal and Monaghan but if I had to plump for one team that you’re probably going to have to beat to win the title this year, it’d be Tyrone. Either way, there’ll be no team walking away with the championship.”

Mackey has been a member of the Cavan senior panel since 2004 and, aside from Seanie Johnston (31), Tomas Corr (32) and Martin Reilly (30) is the senior season on Mattie McGleenan’s current squard. This is his 12th provincial championship season. He didn’t feature in 2005 because “Val Andrews got rid of me.”

The loose-limbed Ballyjamesduff native first got noticed on the intercounty scene when he starred for the county minors who went down by a point in a replay to a Down team that went onto lift the All-Ireland 13 years ago.

The then 17 year old was parachuted into the senior panel later that summer, and made a cameo appearance as a substitute in the All-Ireland SFC Qualifier defeat to Mayo in Roscommon.

After breaking into the senior panel, the talented youngster played League of Ireland football for some four seasons with, firstly, Monaghan United and then Home Farm in Dublin.

He has some serious mileage on his clock at this juncture although he has long since jettisoned the soccer. For the past five years or so, he has concentrated all his sporting efforts on winning a Ulster SFC medal with Cavan and, similarily, a first-ever senior county championship medal with his beloved Castlerahan, beaten finalists last year.

The wear and tear over the year has contributed to him contracting a particular injury called Osteitis pubis, an overuse injury characterised by tissue damage and inflammation to the pelvis at the site where the two pubic bones join.

The condition fractured his involvement on both the club and county fronts in heavy duty style between September 2013 and February 2014.

“The groin still gets very sore but I decided a long time ago to go with just rehab work instead of an operation,” Cavan’s attacking playmaker explains.

“I suppose you could say I’m in remission with it at the present time. I missed out on the start of this year’s national league but I’ve been training, full-time, for the last two months and I’m happy with how I’m moving in training and in the games with my club.”

Over the past 13 years, Mackey has been favoured to varying degreees by a stream of Cavan managers i.e Tommy Carr, Val Andrews, Terrry Hyland and now Mattie McGleenan.

The self-employed plumber is finding life interesting and enjoyable under the last-named:

“Mattie comes with a good reputation from the work he’s done at schools and club level and he’s a players’ man.

“He’s got a good way with him as a man-manager. It’s easy to discuss things with him and, as a coach, he’s got us playing a different style of football, He’s got us attacking more than we have been doing in recent years.”

Everything is relative, of course, and Mackey makes no bones about Cavan’s disappointment at fluffing their lines the national league’s top flight this year.

“Being relegated was disappointing but, for me, losing out to Roscommon in the last game of the league made the drop even more hard to take because we felt we had a decent run in the league and we wanted to go out on a high.

“We have regrouped since we got relegated last month and we should be able to take inspiration from Tyrone’s success in winning the championship last year when they were playing out of division two.”

Cavan haven’t won the Ulster SFC since 1997 and after a famine, there’s supposed to be a feast. On that basis, the hoardes of Breffni blues that will be hoping that whatever about bouncing straight back to the top in the 2018 NFL, there’s bigger fish to fry in the short-term.

Monaghan at home or Fermanagh away on June 11th?

“I don’t care which of them comes through because the thing about Ulster football is that everyone can beat everyone on their day.

“We’ll concentrate on looking after ourselves in the next few weeks. We tried to play a different style of football in the league but we have learned lessons from those games. We need to be cuter though.”


“We have regrouped since we got relegated last month and we should be able to take inspiration from Tyrone’s success in winning the championship last year when they were playing out of division two.”



There’s scarcely a team in Ireland that could out-run Mattie McGleenan’s crew. Embedded in the team is energy to burn, Rolls Royce engines and the kind of speed-off-the-mark that is in the DNA of all sprinters.

Cavan’s mobility and stamina allow the players to keep the burners on for longer than most teams. The Blues’ overall work rate is a huge weapon in their arsenal. Their ability to police their opponents’ dangermen in a concentrated, collective fashion from gun to tape is another stand-out trait.

In that latter regard, the versatile Martin Reilly epitomised the dynamism in the Cavan side with his expert shadowing of Peter Harte last January in the Dr. McKenna Cup as Cavan recorded their first competitive senior football victory over Tyrone in 16 years.

The Cavan squad boasts lorry loads of confidence and self-belief, spawned from the loins of a handful of Ulster underage title triumphs over the past five years.

Mattie McGleenan is likely to go into the first round clash with either Monaghan or Fermanagh with a full hand to play with. The deck has recently been upholstered with the return from injury of key trio, Padraig Faulkner, James McEnroe and Jack Brady.


The inconsistency of the Cavan performances thus far in 2017 is worrying. Even the most pessimistic blues’ fan didn’t expect their favourites to cave in away to Roscommon in the last round of the NFL, especially in the wake of an earlier top rank victory in Mayo.

Mattie McGleenan and his charges are still enjoying a honeymoon period as a couple and judgement is unlikely to be passed on them ‘till the 2018 NFL. One wonders then will they go into the upcoming championship believing their time has come or will they be content with biding their time?

In Cavan’s last appearance in the Ulster SFC on July 3rd last, they conceded a whopping 5-18 - the second highest ever recorded by a team in over a century of Ulster championship action - to Tyrone. Serious concerns still surround the leak-proof nature of the team’s full-back line.

The Blues have had to rob Peter to pay Paul since the departure of totemic target-men David Givney and Eugene Keating. Relocating Gearóid McKiernan onto the edge of the small square robs the engine-room of the team of its best fielder. But without McKiernan close to goal, the Cavan inside line struggles when the deliveries are above chest-high.

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