By Niall Gartland
ALL the personal sacrificies, all the grinding at training, all the agonising near-misses of the past – it’s all been worth it for All-Ireland Champion, Ronan McNamee.
While we don’t want to argue that some players are more deserving than others, it’s fair to say that McNamee has certainly paid his dues to Tyrone football, finally picking up a Celtic Cross medal after ten years of uninterrupted service to the county.
A video doing the rounds of McNamee embracing his mother Anne on the sidelines of Croke Park last Saturday would melt even the hardest of hearts, and while he never truly lost faith, it’s an inarguable fact of life that good things don’t always come to those who wait.
Speaking 24 hours later at the team’s triumphant homecoming at O’Neill”s Healy Park, McNamee admitted that he still hadn’t fully internalised that he’s now joined the ranks of legendary All-Ireland winners within the O’Neill County.
“I felt it would come at some stage, but you’re almost hanging in there hoping it would happen. We’ve been there or thereabouts for a long time, and it’s sweet to finally put the matter to bed. It’s a great feeling but it’s hard to take in to be honest.
“It’ll probably sink in after a few weeks when life’s back to normal, that this has just happened.”
McNamee made his Tyrone debut in their famous qualifier defeat to Kerry down in Killarney back in 2012. Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly were also playing that day, while Ronan O’Neill was recovering from a cruciate injury, and Tiernan McCann and Niall Morgan were drafted into the panel the following season.
Five men now proud holders of All-Ireland medals, and McNamee admits there would’ve been plenty of regrets if they’d failed in their quest to climb the steps of Hogan Stand on the biggest day in Gaelic Football.
“It probably would’ve been deemed a failure to an extent,” said McNamee.
“We won All-Ireland minor titles in 2008 and 2010, and I was part of the 2009 team which lost to an Armagh side that eventually won that All-Ireland.
“We had unbelievable players coming through, a real good group, but it’s easy saying the future looks bright, it’s a whole other matter making things work.
“It took us a bit longer than we’d have liked but we got there in the end. It’s sweet because there’s so much crap talked about the team, people don’t seem to like us. They can think what they like and they’re entitled to their opinion, but we’ve won Sam and that’s what it’ll say in 100 years time.”
Elaborating on what made the difference this time around, he said: “Mickey [Harte] brought the county to levels we’d never reached before over a period of twenty years, and I felt like this win was coming regardless of who was in charge.
“It’s not as if it’s been an awful change under the new management, but it’s different voices and different ideas, and they’ve helped us get over the line.
“It’s nice for the likes of myself, Petie Harte, Mattie Donnelly, T-Mac (Tiernan McCann) and Ronie [O’Neill]. We’d been there fighting for a long time with nothing to show for it, but we’ve won Sam and no-one can take that away from us.”
See this week’s Ulster Herald for our full interview with Ronan McNamee