Niall McNamee: 'You're trying to wring every last bit of ounce out of it, for as long as you can'

Kildare are next on the agenda for McNamee and Offaly after last weekend’s win over Louth.

Niall McNamee made his debut as a 17-year-old back in 2003.
Niall McNamee made his debut as a 17-year-old back in 2003.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S 15 YEARS since he led Offaly to the Leinster final and almost four years after his initial retirement from inter-county duty.

Niall McNamee turns 36 later this year and remains one of the most important figures in the Offaly dressing room. Last weekend he scored 1-3 and set-up the third goal as they dismissed Louth after extra-time in the Leinster preliminary round.

Now, the Faithful are chasing consecutive wins in the province for the first time since their run to the provincial decider in 2006.

One of the longest serving players in the game, McNamee’s longevity has been remarkable, not least because Offaly have enjoyed just four victories in Leinster since the 1-15 to 0-9 final defeat to Dublin.

“I suppose when you’re playing and growing up, you want to play in the bigger games, the bigger championship games,” he says.

“It’s what you’re reared with, it’s what you’re brought up with so you want those big games, you want to be able to compete and you obviously want to win.

“That lifts everyone around the county then and it creates a great vibe around the place. It’s been difficult obviously for the last number of years, it wasn’t happening. There’s lots of different reasons why that was the case. I think we’ve turned a bit of a corner definitely in the last couple of years.

“There’s definitely a very strong squad there. When fellas came on the team wasn’t weakened, if anything it was strengthened and that’s been a key thing for us over the last year or two.”

There have been near misses over the years. Offaly ran eventual All-Ireland finalists Down to the pin of their collars in the 2010 qualifiers and missed out on promotion to Division 2 on scoring difference in 2016.

But under John Maughan there has been significant progress. Promotion to the second tier was achieved and despite the heavy Division 3 final loss to Derry, they recovered impressively to see off Mickey Harte’s men after extra-time. 

Forced to be content with an impact sub’s role during the league, McNamee’s performance as a first-half introduction against Derry was enough to convince Maughan to throw him in from the start for the championship opener.

“You’re trying to wring every last bit of ounce out of it, for as long as you can,” the Rhode forward continues.

“When you see a bit of progress and you see the thing going in the right direction and guys really buying into it, it’s easy to make the trip down during the week. As I say, you’re hoping then that that’s going to result in a few victories in the championship.

“The league was very important I think for the progression of the team, to have the likes of maybe Galway or Meath coming to Tullamore next year,” adds the 11-time Offaly SFC medalist.

“It creates a bit of an atmosphere and brings kids out playing and brings kids out watching the games.

“The younger lads then that are playing on the panel, they become the new heroes for the kids. It’s infectious then and goes through the county so we needed to be up there and that was important.

“Again, this (win over Louth) was very important, just to try to kick on another step and obviously (Kildare) next weekend as well.”

Offaly had to pick themselves up off the ground after the 12-point loss to Derry at Croke Park and they did so in impressive fashion.

“I think we were okay to be honest. When the game was over, most lads were a bit disappointed with the performance or whatever and obviously the game was on television and you’re in Croke Park and you want to perform and to play well and obviously it didn’t go well.

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padraig-grogan-and-niall-mcnamee McNamee made his return to Croke Park against Derry in May. Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

“But I think for the most part guys were saying that the big game was the week before against Fermanagh, getting promotion, then it was a case of parking it. After 12am last Saturday night, nobody really spoke about it. It was ‘Okay, move on, championship next weekend’. That was the driving force then for this week.”

McNamee was one of a handful of players with experience of lining out on Jones’ Road, with Offaly’s Division 4 final win over Longford in 2015 their last appearance at the venue. 

“It was great to get a spin in Croke Park. Some of the lads were saying they hadn’t played there before, I couldn’t believe it. When I look back after the 2015 league final, I said, ‘Sure most of them had to have played’ but when I looked through the squad there were still a lot of lads that hadn’t played there. 

“So just to get a spin out there, that’s where you want to be playing. That’s your target again growing up, they’re the games you want to be playing in. I know it was a poor result but we turned around fairly quickly to get ready for this game and as I say, it was a nice way to round it off.”

Offaly have played seven games in eight weeks and meet Jack O’Connor’s Kildare on Sunday in a repeat of last years’s quarter-final. The Lilywhites left Portlaoise with a four-point win that evening but it was a game Offaly left they left behind them.

A year earlier, during Maughan’s first campaign in charge, they ran Meath to two points in the opening round of Leinster. 

“Look, it’s a local rivalry against Kildare,” he remarks. “It’s brilliant, it brings out the best in the supporters, it brings out the best in the players as well. We’ll be looking forward to it.
“It’s brilliant, games are coming thick and fast between the league final and the Fermanagh game and obviously Louth and now next week as well. Recovery is key for the next few days definitely.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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