GAA Football

'I was over working in London when McGleenan dragged me home…': From glass half empty to glass half full, how Cian Mackey's fortunes changed for the better

Cian Mackey has carved out a role as a supersub for Cavan this season and, as he tells Neil Loughran, it's the latest new development he's had to get used to...

Cian Mackey celebrates after scoring Cavan's last-gasp leveller the first day out against Armagh. Picture by Philip Walsh

WHEN he headed off to London towards the end of 2016, it wasn’t so much a crossroads Cian Mackey stood at as a dead end.

There are only so many times a man can be kicked in the stomach before the pain becomes a constant, and the game he loved hadn’t been kind in recent times.

Consecutive county final defeats with Castlerahan hurt like hell, that elusive first title seemingly destined to remain out of reach. Cavan, in Terry Hyland’s final year in charge, had finally made it into Division One but failed to break new ground in Championship.

A gutsy semi-final draw with Tyrone in Ulster was followed by a harrowing 17-point reversal in the replay before Derry sent them tumbling out of the Qualifiers. Mattie McGleenan came in during the autumn, full of enthusiasm and positive intent.

For Mackey, though, there was thinking to be done.

He had a stint as landlord at the Cheers pub in Ballyjamesduff before deciding to call time and, at 29, Mackey jumped at the chance to get away and earn a few quid plumbing across the water.

“I did it for three years and it was good craic but it's not a lifestyle for me at all,” he said of his days behind the bar.

“It's all late nights and the club boys be out working and socialising. I went plumbing then but I'm working for a recruitment company now, a mate of mine has a recruitment company so I'm working for them.

“I was over working in London when McGleenan dragged me home…”

McGleenan came calling through the Dr McKenna Cup and the early stages of the League. Eventually, Mackey relented.

And, although it has taken a while for his luck to turn, it turned out to be a game-changing decision as Mackey now has a senior county medal in his back pocket - Castlerahan are reigning Cavan champions - and an Ulster Championship final to look forward to.

“I was thinking about it [staying in London] because at the time things weren't going great and you start thinking ‘there's more to life than football’,”

“Those things go through any footballer's head when you're not getting to any finals or not winning anything. Now, in hindsight, it's great being home and being part of it.

“I'm a long time waiting for that luck to turn. That was our fifth final with Castlerahan in the space of seven or eight years.

“Winning is a habit so when you get to finals and you lose you think 'here we go again' but in the last final we thought 'let's go for it'.

“With Cavan we have embraced that a bit as well.”

In this year’s Championship campaign, Mackey has had to embrace something else new too – starting on the bench.

So far he has been brought on against Monaghan (56 minutes) and in both clashes with Armagh (46 and 39 minutes), Breffni boss Mickey Graham clearly feeling Mackey has a huge role to play when legs are tiring late in the game.

It would be hard to argue.

In the drawn semi-final with the Orchardmen in particular, his cameo kept Cavan’s Anglo-Celt dreams alive, showing nerves of steel to slot over dramatic equalisers in normal and extra-time – though a spurned chance to win the game right at the death wasn’t easily shaken off.

“It took me until about Wednesday because it was the easiest one of the whole lot to score, in my head,” he says.

“I was told that if I'd kicked it ‘Holla’ [Ciaran Brady] would have missed the final… the boys had a joke that I did it for him. Once we got over the line the second day I didn't feel as bad.”

Considering all that has gone before, most would just be happy to still be involved when the going is so good, but not Mackey. And it still won’t sit easy if he finds himself sitting among the subs when the ball is thrown in at Clones tomorrow.

“You want to play as much as you can,” said the 32-year-old.

“The way it is at the minute, that's the role he [Graham] has me in. If he asked me to start in the Ulster final I'd take his hand off.

“I feel I have the legs, he feels it gives us a better impact me coming on, though I started some games in the League, so it's horses for courses.

“Possibly the game opens up slightly more by the time you come on but the game is still 120 mph and every team uses all their subs so there's plenty of fresh legs running up and down.”

At what stage he enters the fray will be an indication of how Cavan are going against a Donegal side strongly fancied to retain their Ulster crown.

Miracles can happen though and, on their biggest day in almost two decades, it would be only fitting for a true Cavan cult hero to come on and write another remarkable chapter when it matters most.

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