Saturday 17 August 2019

Coming out of retirement was best decision ever - McNamee

Niall McNamee will remain part of the Offaly set-up ‘for as long as I am able’. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall McNamee will remain part of the Offaly set-up ‘for as long as I am able’. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Football's backwater quickens its flow this weekend with the first round of qualifiers and, after a strong performance in their only Leinster game last month, a resurgent Offaly might be ready to make a splash.

The Faithful County don't have a good qualifier record over the last two decades, but if Niall McNamee's enthusiasm is anything to go by, a promising month ahead could develop into a promising couple of years.

McNamee, 34 next October, retired from inter-county football at the end of 2017 after 15 years of service to the county, dating back to his final minor year in 2003 when he made his debut.

When temporary manager Paul Rouse and McNamee's own brother Alan failed to persuade him back for last year's qualifiers, the expectation was that the talented Rhode forward really had drawn a line under that part of his career.

But overtures from John Maughan and others over winter helped to turn his mind and at the end of January he committed to a return.

"First of all, it was a huge decision to step away because it is a big part of life and has been for a long number of years," he reflected. "I put a lot of thought into it and I suppose I was busy with other stuff - work, relationships and everything that goes with it. I felt the time was right.

"I won't lie, it took me a while to come around (to returning). People have suggested to me since I went back that I must have missed it but, to be honest, I didn't really.

"The biggest factor, and one I put a lot of thought into, was the fact that when I was eight or nine and I found out what football with Offaly was, going to Croke Park, the childhood dream was always to represent the county and I got the opportunity to do it for a long time. And I felt I'd be long enough not playing. I still felt I had a bit to offer."

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It is, he contends, one of the best decisions he has made, helped by the identity he feels for his county when he drives into the newly appointed 'Faithful Fields' in Kilcormac, Offaly GAA's Centre of Excellence.

"I'm like a child going back and it's all new and a bit fresh. Even Kilcormac, it's a smashing spot. As soon as you are driving in the gate you get a great buzz from it. The hurlers are there, the under 20s, minors and every type of person is there in terms of different squads mingling together. Just to have a home base to go to."

He resisted Rouse and his brother, who had taken over after Stephen Wallace's departure this time last year because he didn't feel equipped to make a mid-season return.

"I know the year before that I went back after the league and I probably wasn't up to the standard that I need to be at, in terms of how I felt physically. It was a big decision to retire, a lot of soul-searching and I didn't feel right coming back in during the year."

Offaly play London in the opening qualifier game in Tullamore tomorrow afternoon, but for McNamee his 'second coming' is no quick fix with plans to be around for the next couple of years as ripples of excitement about what the future holds develop.

The county is producing a steadier flow of talent in recent years with promising forward Cian Johnson, previously committed to the under 20s in accordance with county board policy, heading the list. His partnership with McNamee in attack next season is a potentially exciting one.

"That was part of the decision coming back in, I've always wanted to play for Offaly and if I think I can add value somewhere over the next few years, I'll stay around, whether that's coming off the bench or just having a word with a young guy in a dressing-room. As long as I am just not taking up space and lads are happy to have me around, I'll stay for as long as I am able."

He credits Maughan with creating a great atmosphere around the team and that their performances haven't been reflected in their results. "It's very much a happy dressing-room where lads are striving to get better. There has been a good foundation laid that will kick on into next year."

McNamee continues to be contracted in a player engagement capacity by the Gaelic Players Association where he imparts advice on careers, welfare and addiction, something he has experience of and speaks of now with strength.

Inter-county teams are a reflection of society," he said of gambling addiction. "It's ever-growing."

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