It says something about Rhode’s dizzying success that Niall McNamee won his 12th Dowling Cup on Sunday, and yet he is still not even the most decorated Offaly club footballer in his own family.
Big brother Alan (40) claimed his 13th medal over the weekend - no other player in history has won as many Offaly senior football championships. The powerful midfielder’s first senior success was way back in 1998, so his haul has spanned four decades.
“We won’t catch him, some of us have 12 but we are not going to get him if he doesn’t stop shortly,” smiles Niall (36). “But we might not win them without him either, that’s the thing. He won the kick-out for the goal, put a high ball in then. The man lives and breathes it, it’s unbelievable what he does to his body to keep it in shape. That man lives in the gym, lives in ice baths, does whatever he has to do to get himself in shape. And he’s experienced enough now to know when to peak for the year.”
Niall also won a Dublin SFC with UCD in 2006, but jokes that he doesn’t really count that one because when it comes to the currency of tallying up county medals around Rhode, Offaly championships are the only legal tender.
The McNamee clan was again central to Rhode’s latest triumph – Niall scoring the match-winning point from a 59th minute mark, while Alan delivered the long ball inside which ended with cousin Ruairí McNamee registering the game’s only goal.
Asked whether he reckons Alan will return again in 2023, according to Niall the only certainty is that his sibling will not be ambling around the junior ranks tipping away for leisure.
“The problem with him is he loves it too much but also, he wouldn’t play junior because it would drive him mad if the guys weren’t training, that would just drive him mental. So, I’d say if he’s going to come back he’ll come back and go strong again.”
Of course, behind every club triumph is invariably a backdrop of tragedy or sadness – for those no longer around to see the parish climb to the top of the mountain. And it is no different for Rhode. Among those the club tragically lost over the last two years were former players Dean Morris, Emmett Mayon and John Glennon – who had given a lifetime of service to Rhode on and off the field.
“I won’t oversell it, but we lost some clubmates over the last few years as well. It’s tough like, so to win it is just great for their families, and it kind of feels they are still here with us so that’s a special thing,” says Niall. “It was a big downer on the team last year, a really sad time and there was a heavy cloud around the village over the last year, so to be able to come back this year and win it back was special.”
Rhode have won seven Offaly senior titles since 2012. After losing last year’s decider to Tullamore, there was a sense around the county that Rhode’s glorious era had run its course. But back they came this season, beating Tullamore 1-9 to 0-11 on Sunday.
“For a lot of lads, it’s just a part of who they are, possibly to an extent they take it too seriously in lots of ways. It’s just a huge part of who we are. We just don’t know anything else really,” adds Niall.
“We won that county final without Eoin Rigney and Niall Darby, two intercounty defenders, so they’ll be a huge addition to us next year again, so we still have a lot of stuff going on.
“It’s just a lovely one to win, it’s a sweet one. I know we’ve been around a long time, and you don’t hear it too often but still you do hear people saying there mightn’t be much more of a kick left [in Rhode]. But I go to training every night and see what’s available and what we have, there’s just no end to these boys.”
And no end to Niall McNamee either. He captained the team last Sunday and led by example, claiming a mark in the last minute of normal time, composing himself, and then sweetly stroking over the winning score.
“It was a great ball in by Anton Sullivan. Tullamore were dropping the centre back in and there was limited space, if the ball bounced and it wasn’t a mark you are going to have two or three lads around you when you land, so you are always thinking of how you are going to get an easy kick away. Then with the wind, if that was a normal day I’m not sure that ball would have reached me but just the wind kind of carried it that bit further, and I made sure that I could get out in front for it.”
Next up for Rhode is a Leinster club quarter-final against the eventual Meath champions in early November.
“We love the Leinster competition, the whole village just goes on tour for the day.”
As Rhode’s never-ending journey continues.