Monday 23 September 2019

Iron men of Rhode continue to punch above weight as they steel themselves for Clara test

Niall McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall McNamee. Photo: Sportsfile

Liam Kelly

Rhode, county Offaly - the little village with its heart and soul centred on Gaelic football.

The population, according to the 2016 census, was 811 - 388 males and 423 females, of which 184 were men aged from 20 to 39.

As far as football is concerned, Rhode can field about 70 players for their adult teams, of which 30 form the current senior panel under manager Paschal Kellaghan.

That's the squad that will seek to defend their Offaly SFC title against challengers Clara in Tullamore tomorrow, and the buzz of excitement has been building steadily in Rhode since the semi-final win over Gracefield by 1-15 to 1-7 last month.

Last Sunday, more than 200 men, women, and children turned up for a pre-county final event in the Rhode GAA parish hall, at which the senior team players were served breakfast.

Among the enthusiastic throng at the clubhouse was Paddy McCormack, 'The Iron Man of Rhode', who was a central figure in the Offaly All-Ireland victories of 1971 and 1972.

Stephen Darby, a veteran of Eugene McGee's 1982 Sam Maguire Cup-winning team, also attended the event. He serves as the club's underage section chairman.

For the young members of the club, ranging in age from six to under-21, it's all about hope for the future and maintaining the tradition of success that has been such a feature for Rhode since 2004.

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Niall McNamee, a key player for Offaly until his recent retirement after 14 years in the Faithful County colours, recalls how he looked up to Rhode stars of the past, and how the current team want to keep the village to the forefront at county and provincial level.

"There's that tradition. You walk down the street at home, you walk out the door, Stephen Darby's next door, he's won an All-Ireland medal, Johnny Mooney is three doors up, he has one; Paddy McCormack is two doors up again, he's got two All-Irelands.

"I see this at club level at home with Rhode in the last couple of years, when you go playing Leinster club matches and the crowd comes with us and it lifts the whole village. That's what it does. It lifts everybody," he said.

Rhode have won the Dowling Cup eight times since 2004, including three-in-a-row in 2004, '05, and '06, but club PRO Robert Kellaghan, brother of team manager Paschal, insists that the success does not breed complacency.

Prior to that '04 victory, Rhode's only county senior title of the 1990s came in '98. There were none in the 1980s and just one in the 1970s - '75.

"First of all, we don't take it for granted. From 1975, before I was born, to '98 we won nothing.

"We went 23 years without winning a championship. That's a long time and the hunger never leaves us," said Kellaghan.

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