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McNamee calls time on an inter-county career where he was Offaly's shining light

Thursday, 7 September 2017

McNamee calls time on an inter-county career where he was Offaly's shining light thumbnailNiall McNamee has called time on his inter-county football career.

AN era in Offaly football ended last week when the county's star name and best player for the past fourteen years or so called time on his inter-county career.

The announcement by Niall McNamee on social media last Tuesday week that he was hanging up his county boots was not a surprise and the writing had been on the wall once he opted out of the National Football League this year.

McNamee's career co-incided with a spell during which Offaly football was in the doldrums - the only honours he won were National Football League Division 2 2004 and Division 4 in 2008 and 2015, while he played in one Leinster Senior Football Championship final, a defeat by Dublin in 2006.

He made his debut as a seventeen year old in the 2003 Leinster Senior Football Championship against Laois and it was the start of a long county career. Between championship and league, he played 132 times for Offaly from 2003 to 2017 - 42 in the championship and 90 in the league.

He was Offaly's shining light for many of those years, a brilliantly talented forward, a superb ball winner and capable of kicking outlandish points and scoring spectacular goals. Had he been with a successful county, he would have won a handful of All-Star awards but he didn't receive that recognition.

While Offaly alternated between Divisions 4 and 3 for a lot of his career, his performances were the main reason they didn't hit complete rock bottom and he earned a national reputation as one of the best and most lethal forwards in the game - the best Offaly footballer since Matt Connor and the one player from the county who would have made any team in the country.

In his early days, Offaly were still somewhat competitive. While the likes of Vinny Claffey, Peter Brady, Finbarr Cullen and Sean Grennan had retired or were about to retire, outstanding players from the 1997 and 1998 Leinster Senior Football Championship and National Football League winning sides such as Ciaran McManus, Cathal Daly, Colm Quinn, Roy Malone were still playing when he burst onto the scene.

Under Kevin Kilmurray, Offaly were a Division 1 side and they reached that 2006 Leinster Senior Football Championship final but after that, they headed down the ranks at breakneck pace.

Offaly became among the also rans, shipping some horrific championship beatings and there were years when they were scarcely competitive. The quality of McNamee's football in those years was one of the things that gave consolation to supporters.

He had his personal difficulties and in 2012, thanks to guidance from then Offaly manager, Gerry Cooney, he entered the Rutland Centre for treatment for a gambling addiction. With assistance from the Gaelic Players Association, he went public with this and it changed the course of his life as he engaged in work and talks to help others with gambling and mental health problems after this - Gerry Cooney's reign as Offaly manager was a short lived one, an abrupt six months before he resigned, but his impact on McNamee's life was immense as he set up the treatment programme at the Rutland Centre, where he works as a senior counsellor.

McNamee returned to playing some quality football after that but ironically was not quite as influential as he had been before. He still remained Offaly's star forward, the jewel in their crown, their chief score getter and the man every other county made special plans for - more often than not, he was doubled marked during games.

He has also given outstanding service to Rhode, with whom he will continue to play. He has won seven Senior Football Championship medals with them as well as five U-21, 2 minor, 2 U-16, 2 U-14 and 2 U-12 Football Championship medals. He has been the Offalys senior footballer of the year on five occasions (2004, 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2016). He won the U-21 footballer of the year award in 2004 and was the minor footballer of the year in 2002.

Announcing his retirement last week, McNamee wrote:

"Only seems like yesterday that I made my debut. It's been a huge honour to represent and captain my county. The time has now come to step away. I want to say a huge thank you to all of my team mates that I've been lucky to take the field with down through the years. Thank you to all the managers who showed faith in me.

"I've been extremely lucky to fulfill a lot of my childhood dreams and it is truly with a heavy heart that I call it a day. A massive thank you to all the Faithful supporters for your support throughout the years, both on and off the field.

"Finally a big thank you to my parents, brother and sister and my girlfriend for always being there in the good days and not so good days. i couldn't have done it without you all. Thank you to the GPA for the huge part you guys have played in supporting my off field career.

"I'm really looking forward to supporting the boys next year and beyond and I pray that the glory days return to Offaly in the not too distant future."

See page 57 for more on Niall McNamee's career.

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