McNamee delight at ending Offaly hoodoo
Niall McNamee has played senior inter-county football for 13 years - and for nine of those years, Offaly could not win a first round Leinster Championship match.
If anyone had told the 17-year-old Rhode clubman on May 25, 2003 when he made his debut against Laois, that Offaly had only four years left in which to make an impression on the provincial campaign, he would have laughed.
The confidence of youth could never envisage a drought such as afflicted the Faithful County from June 10, 2007 when they beat Carlow by 2-19 to 3-7, to May 15, 2016, the day Offaly beat Longford by eight points.
McNamee, 30, has thus spent the bulk of his career striving might and main for Offaly in teams which, year after year, slumped to defeat in their first Leinster outing.
He had his personal problems with gambling addiction which he first revealed to this writer in 2012, and has since gone on to rebuild his personal and business life.
Through it all, the flame of desire to see Offaly lifted out of the doldrums kept him playing in the green, white and gold shirt. As one of the most talented players ever to grace the game, McNamee did his best, time and again for the county.
He admitted that in the depths of his addiction, football provided the only brightness, that for the time out on the pitch, nothing else mattered. Today, the mood among Offaly supporters has brightened considerably. For that, McNamee is relieved and grateful.
Another loss, extending the wait for that coveted first championship win, to ten years would have been devastating.
"If it had come to a stage that there was another loss, I think it would have been very, very difficult for lads to face into the next few weeks. From that point of view, it's brilliant, but from now on, it's back to business again getting ready for the quarter-final," said McNamee.
June 12, away to Westmeath, is the next outing for Offaly, whose manager Pat Flanagan demands a step up in standard.
"I still think this team is way off where they can get to. I wouldn't say that they're at 60pc. There is an awful lot more within each player. If we can get that out, then we'll become a better team," said Flanagan.
The June 12 fixture will attract huge interest in both counties, as Flanagan managed Westmeath from 2010-2013, then took charge of Sligo for 2014, before taking the Offaly job in October 2014.