McNamee lays down Leinster marker for Rhode
HE captained Rhode; scored 2-4; won the man-of-the-match award; made an inspiring speech and, by the time he left O'Connor Park, Tullamore, after yesterday's final, he had already laid down a marker as to the club's Leinster title ambitions.
Niall McNamee is a special football talent who, in a more successful Offaly era, would have a much higher profile, not to mention a more cluttered trophy cabinet. There were times yesterday when he compared favourably with the legendary Matt Connor as he picked off crucial scores with effortless ease.
It wasn't perfection all the way as he kicked five wides but, in the best traditions of all great players, he didn't let it upset him. On a broader front, Rhode didn't allow their heavy first-half wastage to disrupt them. Instead, they relied on their experience to guide their efforts against the wind in the second half and were rewarded with a much-improved performance, which saw them regain the title they last held in 2008.
They lost last year's final to Clara by a point, a margin which again applied yesterday, only this time it was Rhode who held the crucial edge. It was a close call though, as they were clinging on at the finish, having been rocked by a stoppage-time goal by John O'Hara after opening up what looked a match-winning four-point lead in the 59th minute.
It looked as if Clara might salvage a draw, but Rhode held their nerve in the closing seconds to take the title for the 24th time. It looked ominous for them at half-time when, after playing with a blustery wind, they were held level (2-1 to 1-4). Rhode's goals came from McNamee (eight minutes) and Anton Sullivan (17 minutes) but they couldn't shake off plucky Clara, for whom Thomas Deehan scored an opportunist goal in the 13th minute. His accuracy from frees was also important and they really must have felt at half-time that the Dowling Cup would remain in their possession for another year.
It was a time for clear thinking in the Rhode dressing-room and manager Tom Coffey provided it, setting up the side for a different type of game in the second half.
"We just sat down and made a plan. We put three guys in the full-forward line, we put runners on the wing and tried to stop Clara scoring. We had Anton Sullivan and Niall Darby doing the running, carrying the ball forward. And to be fair to Niall (McNamee), when a few balls went in, he read them perfectly and took his scores well," said Coffey.
McNamee's second goal, finished with precision in the 39th minute, was crucial in shaping a game where the standard improved dramatically after a disappointing first half. With John Reynolds, O'Hara and Thomas Deehan asserting themselves in the Clara attack, they opened a two-point lead early in the second half, only for McNamee's goal to re-energise Rhode.
Clara equalised quickly and the sides were level heading into the final quarter before Niall Darby, whose accurate free-taking was a major weapon in Rhode's artillery, restored the lead. McNamee also hoisted two inspiring points and, with Rhode growing increasingly confident, they opened a four-point gap before O'Hara squeezed home a Clara goal in the 61st minute.
It was their first score for nine minutes, a period in which Rhode had scored three points that would ultimately prove decisive. There was far more shape and coherence to their second-half performance and while Clara generated as much momentum as they could muster, it didn't quite match Rhode's levels.
If Niall McNamee was Rhode's main man, he received lots of constructive support from Anton Sullivan, Niall Darby, Paschal Kellaghan, Alan McNamee (who came on a sub in the first half) and Shane Sullivan.
Reynolds, O'Hara, Thomas Deehan, Scott Brady and Matthew Mitchell worked tirelessly for Clara but, in the end, it just wasn't their day.
Instead, it was Rhode who were celebrating last night but already they were turning their thoughts to the Leinster championship.
"We got a taste of it a few years ago and were very disappointed not to win it. We want to make amends for that," said Niall McNamee, who felt that maintaining their composure after a sloppy first half was central to yesterday's success.
"We had been in this position before. We knew we hadn't played anything like our best football in the first half. It was important to put that behind us and work at getting things right in the second half, which we did," he said.
The hurt of losing last year's county final was very much at the back of Rhode minds all year and, according to manager Coffey, remained a major rallying point.
Having made amends, they are now determined to make a major impact on the Leinster scene.
"These guys were very disappointed after losing the Leinster final to Kilmacud two years ago, so it's great for them to get another chance. We will have one or two nights out but after that we'll be knuckling down and putting in a huge effort for the Leinster campaign," he said.
Yesterday's attendance was 6,500.
Scorers -- Rhode: N McNamee 2-4 (0-2f), N Darby 0-5 (0-4f), A Sullivan 1-0. Clara: T Deehan 1-6 (0-6f), J O'Hara 1-2, J Reynolds 0-3.
Rhode -- E McDonald; C Heavey, D Murphy, B Darby; R Leavy, D Hope, S Sullivan; M Dunne, R Malone; N Darby, P Sullivan, A Sullivan; J Coffey, P Kellaghan, N McNamee. Subs: A McNamee for Coffey (28), E Byrne for Leavy (h-t), J Kilmurray for Malone (57).
Clara -- K Meehan; J Ledwith, Joe Quinn, D Kelly; D Ledwith, M Mitchell, L Hiney; S Brady, R Brady; T Dalton, J Reynolds, P Deehan; T Deehan, J O'Hara, G Guilfoyle. Subs: A Cronin for J Ledwith (23), M Stones for Hiney (45), K O'Meara for Dalton (56), P Flanagan for P Deehan (56), C Kelly for D Ledwith (59).
Ref -- D Brazil.