No Championship show without Cavan's Cian Mackey
MATTIE McGleenan was a culture shock right from the start.
Cian Mackey knew he’d made the right to decision to come home from England and put his shoulder to the Cavan wheel.
Mackey never encountered a managerial style like McGleenan’s before. The new boss works hard on establishing consensus among his squad.
Team meetings are more like discussions than lectures.
McGleenan is a first-among-equals kind of leader.
“He’s very positive and very easy to talk to,” Mackey says of the Tyrone native.
“Instead of a team meeting and being told what you’re doing, it’s a discussion. I think that’s a great thing for young players that they’re not constantly listening; their point of view is heard…
“I haven’t really seen that style before. There are a lot more questions asked by him as well as us asking questions, so it’s good. Your gameplan is brought together by everybody instead of being brought together by the two or three leaders in the group, so I find it a very good idea.”
Mackey has watched quiet members of the panel come of their shells under McGleenan’s liberal regime.
“The quieter fellas are able to talk to him, whereas with a dominant manager it’s a lot harder for a quiet fella to even chat to him. I don’t think any lad would be afraid to go up and talk to Mattie.”
Still only 29, last year’s Championship campaign seemed like a natural conclusion to Mackey’s inter-county career. He made his senior debut back in 2005. He’d established himself as the team’s go-to man and emerged as one of the most consistent playmakers in Ulster football.
Cavan invested so much into trying to win the Ulster title in 2016.
With a new-found attacking verve, Terry Hyland’s men swept aside Armagh in their provincial opener before chiselling out a draw with Tyrone in the semi-finals.
In the replay, they were ripped apart, conceding five goals in a desperate day in Clones.
It sucked the morale out of Cavan ranks.
They stumbled past Carlow in the Qualifiers before Fergal Flanagan's red card and a lack of legs in the final quarter saw them fall to Derry.
And in the dying embers of summer there was no redemption found with his club Castlerahan as they suffered a gut-wrenching county final replay defeat to Ramor United.
No wonder Mackey headed off to England.
“I moved over there to work and to get a break from football for a couple of months, and avoid the slog of the winter because when you come out of a county final losing by a point against your local rivals, two weeks later you don’t want to be going in to do a long slog for two months.
“I wanted to get out for a while and kind of figure out whether I wanted to keep going or not.
“But when you’re out of it for any length of time you miss it.
“So it wasn’t that hard of a decision to come back. Hopefully it’ll reap rewards and we might have a long summer yet.”
And while the modern game may have its critics, Mackey still loves playing as much as ever, even if players of his ilk have flirted with extinction.
“The game has its low points with the blanket defence and we play it ourselves. You have to go with it… It’s still an enjoyable game to play. It’s just as fast as it was 10 or 15 years ago. You need the same amount of energy that you needed 10 or 15 years ago, without a doubt.
“You carry the ball a wee bit more instead of the kick so you need to be willing to go.
“The game will change and evolve. Tyrone changed it in the early 2000s to a swarm tackle and Kerry brought it back to the big full-forward.
“Donegal brought it to the blanket and now Dublin are changing it to something different with the high press.
“The game changes the whole time. It’s going to evolve in the next four or five years; someone else is going to come up with a new idea to beat the big team – and that’s the enjoyment, to know that you can change with the times.”
Derided a couple of seasons ago for their defensive play, RTE pundit Joe Brolly described the Cavan senior football team as “The Black Death”.
Was Mackey offended? Not a chance.
Was he entertained by Brolly’s colourful description of Cavan? Always.
“You couldn’t have the GAA without Brolly,” smiles Mackey.
“He says the things that other people might be thinking. He’s brilliant. I enjoy him.
“I’m sure he’s slated me on numerous occasions but you can’t take him too seriously because if you took everything seriously that was in the media you’d be under severe pressure to perform.
“At a young age, you have to figure it out and let it go over your head. You’d be getting slated when you’re playing badly and when you’re playing good, you’re the best in the world.
“So you just have to take the good with the bad. That’s just the way the GAA is. You can’t change it either because it’s the same in every sport.”
Due to his late arrival to the camp this year, Mackey didn’t start a game in Cavan’s ill-fated Division One campaign but was used from the bench in the last five games.
Ulster Championship rivals Monaghan would prefer it if that’s where he starts Sunday’s eagerly awaited encounter at Kingspan Breffni Park.
“When you’re younger you don’t get brought to every League game but you get brought to every Championship match, and you see the atmosphere, you see what it is.
“And now you’re the person that the kids are looking at, and you want to be playing good football and to win games for them.
“The Championship is where you want to perform. You could play as well as you want in the League but come September no-one remembers who plays well in the League.
"It’s all about who plays in the Championship, it’s all about the big one. That’s the holy grail.”