McNamee puts dark days behind him to light way for Rhode
WHAT a year in the life of Niall McNamee.
Standing on the podium at O'Connor Park, Tullamore, the 26-year-old captain of Rhode footballers made an acceptance speech on behalf of his club with a nice blend of humility and happiness at the team's achievement.
The Dowling Cup was going to Rhode for the 25th time, and unbridled joy was the emotion of players and supporters at the end of this decider.
But all present knew that just 12 months ago, McNamee faced some of the darkest days of his life as he hit the depths due to a gambling addiction.
To his credit, the Rhode skipper faced up to his problems and entered a recovery programme.
In an interview with this reporter early in the year, he candidly laid out the effects the addiction had on his life and on those around him.
McNamee didn't want the story of the county showpiece to be about him, but he did admit how thrilled he was with the way his life is going at present.
Injury had affected his football and that is now coming right, so much so that he contributed eight points towards Rhode's success as the Offaly kingpins devastated Clara in a one-sided second half.
Clara, last year's beaten finalists, led by 1-5 to 0-6 at the half-time interval, with 1-4 coming from the boot of their talented No 15, Thomas Deehan.
But Rhode refused to panic, and out-scored their opponents by nine points to one in the second half.
"It's unbelievable," said McNamee. "It's only in the last seven or eight weeks that my leg has felt great and I've started to get fitter again.
"I'm feeling stronger and mentally, I'm feeling unbelievable. It's the happiest I've felt in my life. This time last year I didn't like the person I had become. That was all down to gambling and now I've turned my life around.
"I'm just so grateful to all the lads and to my family for the support I've had, because I don't know where I would be now without them all."
This is Rhode manager Gerry Hickey's first term in charge of the senior team, and so far, so very good.
Thomas Deehan's 16th-minute goal for Clara was a shock for Rhode, especially as he got possession after Brian Darby let the ball slip out of his hands to pave the way for Deehan's blistering shot to the net.
In a low-scoring game of dogged perspiration rather than inspiration by either side, that goal gave Clara a surge of confidence, even though on the scoreboard, it only put them ahead by 1-2 to 0-3.
Rhode kept in touch for the remainder of the half, nicking three points before the interval from Eoghan Byrne and two from frees by Niall McNamee.
"That second-half performance was fantastic," beamed Hickey. "We wanted to change nothing at half-time. We just identified what we were doing wrong, which was carrying the ball into the tackle and giving away handy frees.
"We stopped doing that, and the weeks we spent working on getting breaking ball paid off."
Indeed it did. Rhode deployed a considerable physical and committed presence across the midfield area to great effect.
Pascal Kellaghan, Alan McNamee -- injured but highly effective -- Conor McNamee, Eoghan Byrne, and Padraig Sullivan did Trojan work in the sector to plunder huge amounts of possession from their own and the Clara kick-outs.
As a result, space opened up for the Rhode forwards and within 10 minutes of the restart, they were in full flow, kicking five unanswered points to go ahead by 0-11 to 1-6.
Paul McPadden and Ciaran Heavey finished attacking moves with stylish scores to open more wounds the Clara psyche, before Scott Brady recorded a 45th-minute point from play.
Brady didn't know it, but that was to be his team's last score.
There was no mercy from Rhode, who could have added a few more to their tally but for a few wides from long-range attempts that would have been spectacular if they had dropped between the posts.
Clara manager Brian Cosgrave was devastated. "It's hard to take," he said. "We were in it up to half-time but we just didn't get into it at all in the second half.
"It just slipped away and became an uphill battle."
Scorers -- Rhode: N McNamee 0-8 (4f, 1 '45'); A Sullivan, P McPadden 0-2 each; E Byrne, M Dunne, C Heavey 0-1 each. Clara: T Deehan 1-4 (4f); J O'Hara, S Brady 0-1 each.
Rhode -- K Garry; E Rigney, S Sullivan, J McPadden; B Darby, E Byrne, C Heavey; A McNamee, C McNamee; P Sullivan, M Dunne, A Sullivan; P McPadden, P Kellaghan, N McNamee. Subs: S Hannon for P McFadden (55)
Clara -- K Meehan; G Collins, J Quinn, P Mitchell; D Baggot, J Ledwith, L Hiney; S Brady, R Brady; A Cronin, M Mitchell, J O'Hara; J Reynolds, S Deehan, T Deehan. Subs: G Guilfoyle for A Cronin (34); D Kelly for J Ledwith (36); B Cushen for J Reynolds (38); L Kelly for S Deehan (45); J Flattery for G Collins (55)
Ref -- N Cooney.