Leinster finals haven’t been kind to Niall McNamee, who has spent over half his life playing in them and losing.
The experienced Offaly and Rhode forward has the unenviable record of competing in six Leinster finals, between club and county, and losing the lot.
The pain began in 2001 when at the age of just 15 ,his prodigious talent wasn’t enough to prevent Offaly’s minors suffering a thumping from Dublin.
Five years later there was a similar feeling, only defeat came on the double as the Offaly and Rhode seniors both lost Leinster finals in 2006.
At this stage, Rhode’s tale of woe has been well documented with a 100% losing record from the four AIB Leinster club finals they’ve contested in the last decade.
Moorefield are the only non-Dublin outfit to have beaten them in a final and while Rhode, and the electric McNamee in particular, hinted early in the 2008 decider that they would overcome Kilmacud Crokes, it wasn’t to be.
So here stands McNamee, 31 now and preparing for another Leinster final against Dublin opposition when Rhode take on St Vincent’s. In truth, most aren’t giving them a hope against the star-studded Marino outfit, though McNamee could hardly be more motivated.
“Obviously a victory would be huge for the area and, absolutely, it’s something that we really want to do,” said the prolific forward.
“When we got the taste of it in 2006, reaching our first Leinster final, we beat UCD in the semi-final that year and there was a huge buzz around and once we got a taste, we were always trying to get back there.
“To win one now would be the icing on the cake but we’re under no illusions in terms of what’s coming up against us.”
Rhode played Vincent’s in the final just two years ago and lost heavily. There was some consolation in seeing the heavyweight Dublin outfit go on to win the All-Ireland the following March.
“The thing about it is, a few of the teams who have beaten us in Leinster finals have gone to win the All-Ireland. They are not bad teams, a lot of quality. Obviously, there were instances in a couple of those finals where we could have got over the line but that’s just the way it is.”
McNamee recently tweeted that it is five years since he last placed a bet. He has been open and honest about his gambling problems and it is remarkable to think that he played some of his best football — remember him torching Paul Griffin early in that 2008 club final? — while in the throes of addiction.
One would expect that Cathal McCarron’s new book, in which the Tyrone footballer documents a similar battle, would be prescribed reading for McNamee, though he says he probably won’t buy it. Why? “No particular reason, just I’ve spoken to him on several occasions and I kind of know what’s in it,” he replied. “I’ve lived a lot of those experiences as well.
“I can go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and I’m going to hear the same stories from different lads, just different venues and different ages and different amounts of money but it’s basically all the same thing.”
After everything he’s been through, on and off the field, nobody would begrudge McNamee a Leinster medal this weekend. Win or lose, Offaly will be looking for a firm commitment from him regarding 2017 soon also. He’s not decided on that one just yet.
“I met Pat (Flanagan) a couple of months ago, we had a great chat and we’ve a match obviously this weekend and then I’m away on holidays for a couple of weeks,” he said. “We’ll have a think about it after that. This was my 14th year and it’s hard to get away from it too.
“Sometimes you’d say to yourself, ‘I’d love to go away and do different things’ but at the same time I know I’d miss it if I was away as well.”
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