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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 19 October, 2019
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'I didn’t really stand out because there were a lot of boys bigger, stronger and quicker than me'

We speak to Derry City midfielder Barry McNamee about his career to date and dealing with the loss of a friend and team-mate.

McNamee and Cork City's Jimmy Keohane.
McNamee and Cork City's Jimmy Keohane.
Image: Presseye/INPHO

WHAT BARRY MCNAMEE may lack in physical power, he has learned to make up for with other attributes.

Raised in the Donegal town of Ramelton, some of his earliest memories involve being brought along to play for local side Swilly Rovers by his father, who was heavily-involved with the club.

And although he clearly possessed talent, McNamee was, for a period, outshone by others who had developed faster during his adolescence.

“When I was young, people would have said I was very talented but physically I was slow to develop,” the Derry City midfielder tells The42.

“I was always one of the smaller players and between the ages of 12 and 16. So it took awhile for me to catch up.”

Though slight in build, McNamee caught the attention of Derry City and signed for the Candystripes shortly after completing his Leaving Certificate. Younger brother Tony would soon make the same move.

Initially finding it difficult to nail down a spot in midfield, he was used as a makeshift left full-back before grabbing his chance during the 2012 campaign.

“I came to Derry where there is less emphasis on physical strength compared to technical ability,” he says. “There are a lot of players up here who are technically-gifted and that’s why they are selected.

“I was playing mainly as a left-back, then as I was turning 20 one of the midfielders picked up an injured and I got the chance to play there. That’s when I got my break and I must have done well because I stayed in the team.”

That November, then-Derry manager Declan Devine put his faith in the youngster for the FAI Cup final against St Patrick’s Athletic at the Aviva Stadium. McNamee’s free-kick set up their first goal and the Foylesiders went on to clinch a 3-2 win after an entertaining 120 minutes of football.

“A lot of great players played in the league for years and didn’t get to a cup final and here I was, less than half a season in senior football, and I’m winning the FAI Cup.”

Barry McNamee raises the FAI Ford cup McNamee lifting the FAI Cup with Stephen McLaughlin by his side. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Overlooked for international recognition up to that point, U21 boss Noel King then called up McNamee — a technically-gift left-footer — and capped him in a friendly with Denmark.

“I was playing at a decent standard and started in the FAI Cup final when I was 20,” he explains.

“After that, I was called into a couple of U21 squads. It was a bit disappointing because most of the other players were playing youth football in England. You think you’re as good as these boys but because they’re coming from English clubs they’re going to get a better chance.”

Clubs across the water were also taking notice and Nottingham Forest offered McNamee a trial shortly after team-mate Stephen McLaughlin had gone across. But although McLaughlin was signed by the Championship club, a change in manager saw the midfielder miss out.

“I was over for the week and I really enjoyed it,” he remembers. “If you believe the talk, a deal was very close. Sean O’Driscoll was the manager at the time but he got sacked. They then put an emphasis on trying to get promoted straight away and for one reason or another, the move never developed.

“Looking back at it and even watching Stephen over there [is hard]. Although he never really got a chance at Forest, he’s playing every week at Southend now and doing really well.

I would have liked to have that chance but it never happened for me and I just had to get on with my career.”

Then there was an invitation to impress at Fleetwood Town, but that didn’t exactly go to plan.

“I spent a few days there and was meant to play in an U21s match but got injured in the warm-up,” he adds. “To be fair, I didn’t enjoy it. I was told going over I’d be involved in the first team. I was 22 at that stage and they had me training with the U21s so it wasn’t a great experience.”

Now 25, McNamee says he has matured since those set-backs. Having earned a degree in sports management at Letterkenny Institute of Technology, he is solely-focused on his career as a full-time footballer.

And,in excellent form of late with seven league goals this season, he hasn’t given up hope of earning a move away.

Watch McNamee’s superb goal in the recent defeat to champions-elect Cork City (1:10 in): 

Source: FAI TV/YouTube

“After the Fleetwood experience, it knocked me back for awhile but I just got back to enjoying my football here,” he says. “I was 21 or 22 when that happened but if a good opportunity came up now I’d be a lot more ready for it.

“You always have to be open to whatever comes along and you want to play at the best level possible. I was watching Dundalk against Rosenborg and they were very unlucky. It shows you that Irish clubs are improving. A lot of the teams are training full-time.

“Daryl Horgan went over and more-or-less went straight into the Preston team so it’s not as if you necessarily need six months to settle.”

Barry McNamee after being presented with a Cork City jersey with Ryan McBride on the back Holding up a jersey presented to Derry by Cork City shortly after McBride's passing. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

After finishing third in the SSE Airtricity League last season, Derry’s aim under Kenny Shiels was to close the gap on the top two this term. Four wins from their opening four league fixtures represented the perfect start, but the club was left shell-shocked when captain Ryan McBride passed away suddenly at the age of 27 in March.

Understandably, the loss of their team-mate and friend affected the players and results suffered in the aftermath of his untimely death.

Everyone deals with it differently and I felt that football was secondary,” says McNamee.

“The week leading up the Bray game, there was a lot of stuff going on with the funeral, different tributes and meeting up with the family.

“We just had to get on with it. For me, it helped to be able to release some energy in a match. It really opens up your eyes and gives you a bit of perspective that football isn’t the be-all and end-all.”

Heading into tonight’s away trip to Dalymount Park to face Bohemians, Derry sit fifth in the table and just two points off third place. It’s been an extremely difficult year, but they are more than capable of salvaging something by equaling last season’s league finish.

“Last year, we came third and at the start of this season — as much as we were playing it down — we were aiming to catch Dundalk and Cork. With the squad we have, we had a great chance of doing it but given everything that’s happened the aim now will be to finish third and qualify for Europe again next season.”

Predictions

Every week, we’re giving readers the chance to take us on in predicting the Premier Division results. After Week 20, here are the standings:

The Readers: 61
The42: 60

Next up is Ginger Mourinho, Bohemians fan

Bohemians v Derry City – Bohs win
Galway United v Drogheda – Galway win
St Patrick’s v Bray Wanderers – Draw
Limerick v Sligo – Limerick win
Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers – Dundalk win
Finn Harps v Derry – Derry win

The42 (Ben Blake)

Bohemians v Derry City – Draw
Galway United v Drogheda – Galway win
St Patrick’s v Bray Wanderers – Pat’s win
Limerick v Sligo – Limerick win
Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers – Dundalk win
Finn Harps v Derry – Derry win

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About the author:

Ben Blake

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