'I loved the Championship days - but doing fitness tests drained every bit of energy out of me' - Cavan's Cian Mackey
After a long and distinguished career in the Breffni blue, Cian Mackey recently announced his retirement from the inter-county scene. He spoke to Brendan Crossan about the highs and lows of his Cavan career
BC: When did you decide you’d had enough of the inter-county scene?
CM: Mickey [Graham] didn’t want to make any decision for me; the decision was up to myself. He wasn’t going to put me under any pressure.
After a long year with the club and Cavan I just needed a couple of weeks to make a decision, and my mindset didn’t change. If I had to make a decision when I initially met Mickey I wasn’t going back and that didn’t change after a couple of weeks. So I just decided to pull the pin.
BC: Did you feel relief after announcing your decision to retire on Twitter?
CM: It was the right decision because you don’t want to be the one that’s not fit to keep up when the going gets tough and you can stay too long too. In my head I feel I could go for another 10 years but it’s not realistic and I kind of made peace with it too before I put out the tweet.
I’ll miss it because we’d some great craic over the years but there’s plenty of other stuff in life that I haven’t experienced because of football.
BC: What’s your thoughts on the increased demands on inter-county players?
CM: It has lifted over the last five or six years. I worked in Dublin since I was 18 years of age and it was tough doing all the travelling back and forth but if I was starting out now as a plumber at 18 or 19 you wouldn’t be able to do it.
The game has gone to the point where you have to be a fantastic athlete to be playing the game, whereas the skills-based side of it has been pushed to the side, which I disagree with, but you have to go with the flow of the game.
For me, over the last three or four years, for club and county, there always seemed to be conditioning work... It seemed to be more about conditioning and ice baths than someone’s ability to kick pass the ball or to look up and find a player.
I can see how players would lose enjoyment out of it. Dublin has set the bar for athleticism but their basic skills are still top drawer. Maybe they’ve got the right balance and other teams feel as if they’ve to be athletic enough to stick with the Dubs but I think you have to do half and half to be realistic about challenging them.
I do believe sometimes you have to play off the cuff. If you see something happening, if you have a player or two in each team - the likes of a Diarmuid Connolly or Bernard Brogan, and even Tyrone Ronan O’Neill has come back in with Tyrone – you need that type player who can do that. Teams need to ensure they have a player with the X factor that can change a game.
BC: What will you not miss?
CM: The ‘Bronco’ test. It’s out 20 metres, back in, out 40 metres, back in and so on… I would have been more nervous about a fitness test than I would before a Championship match, definitely, because I knew when I was out on the field and I got my hands on the ball I was comfortable, but doing a fitness test drained every bit of energy out of me.
BC: Who was your toughest opponent?
CM: James Loughrey of Antrim was definitely up there with the toughest I’ve marked. Loughrey had blinding pace and was powerful. He gave me a lesson in the 2009 Ulster semi-final against Antrim. It was a good lesson and, thank God, it came early in my career.
BC: Which manager got the best out of you with Cavan?
CM: I’d say Terry [Hyland], Peter Donnelly and Anthony Forde. Peter Donnelly was a great coach, he’d be up there with Martin Corry as the best coach I trained under.
Terry just knew who to get in the right places. He’d a lot of smart boys around him to make us successful. He was also big on player welfare, he made sure we were all looked after and to me that was a good trait to have.
It wasn’t just about on the field, he was always trying to look after lads and making sure they were happy. I think Terry got the best out of me at inter-county level.
BC: Joe Brolly once described Cavan’s style of play as the ‘Black Death’. Did that kind of criticism bother you?
CM: It didn’t really bother us because we were one result away from going down to Division Four so we had to do something to make sure we won games whatever way possible.
We got promotion from Division Three and Division Two… Every year Terry was trying to evolve so that the team would transition better. He put a lot of work into it. It probably didn’t evolve at a quick enough rate and that was probably players not buying into it. If players don’t buy into it, it’s a struggle for the manager to get things across.
We needed something drastic to get ourselves into an area to compete and, to be fair, Terry started the ball rolling by getting us promoted from Division Three to Division One, and he got us to an All-Ireland quarter-final as well.
We didn’t care Joe was calling us names.
BC: Any regrets?
CM: I suppose not winning anything with Cavan. We had chances to win Division Three finals, Division Two finals and McKenna Cups and didn’t. Two years got away from us in Ulster – 2013 and 2015. In 2013, we lost to Monaghan in Clones by a point. [Rory] Beggan took about 11 steps when we had him bottled up in the corner trying to draw the game. I’ll never forget that, but they went on to win the Ulster title and we would’ve seen ourselves as every bit as good as them. In 2015, Tyrone beat us after a replay when we could have beaten them in the first game.
BC: Did you feel you were appreciated by supporters on the big Championship days?
CM: It wouldn’t bother me if people didn’t know my worth, as long as my team-mates knew my worth. You play for your team-mates as much as you can.
If it’s your job to make things happen then you do that. If it’s your job to run back and turn over ball you just do it. Now, when you’ve finished playing and people acknowledge what you’ve done, it’s great and it is a good feeling, but when you’re playing you’re making sure you’re doing what you can and you don’t look outside that circle.
BC: What are you looking forward to doing now that you won’t be involved with Cavan?
CM: Going on random holidays and stag parties. I’ve been to two stag parties in my life – Ronan Flanagan’s and Daniel Lynch’s.