Football

Tyrone hero Ronan McNamee reflects on his inter-county career

Tyrone's Ronan McNamee lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2021.
Tyrone's Ronan McNamee lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2021. Tyrone's Ronan McNamee lifts the Sam Maguire Cup in 2021.

One of Tyrone’s best and most reliable players Ronan McNamee announced his retirement from inter-county football a few weeks ago and he goes out in the knowledge that he gave his all for the Red Hands.

Ronan McNamee made his senior championship debut against Kerry in Killarney in 2012 and it was against the same opposition that he brought his county career to an end this season.

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In between he experienced highs and lows and will never forget when the final whistle blew at the end of the 2021 All-Ireland SFC Final against Mayo to signify Tyrone’s fourth Sam Maguire Cup success, a game that they always expected to win.

“I remember looking at Petey Harte and he was crying and I was thinking ‘What are you supposed to be feeling here?’ It was weird,” he admits.

“There was maybe tension and questions in your head and I think it was more relief for a lot of players but I remembering thinking ‘What has just happened here?’

“The work that you put into it your whole life for it is huge for it to boil down to millimetres at times. You can never know when you have enough done.

“I was sitting in the middle of the field with Mattie [Donnelly] and Petey and Mattie saying that we were at 70 per cent and we had coasted it. There was another 30 per cent in that team and he was right. Obviously things went your way but you could feel that we were keeping them at arms’ length.

Tyrone's Ronan McNamee in action against Mayo
Tyrone's Ronan McNamee in action against Mayo Tyrone's Ronan McNamee in action against Mayo

“Going into the final we never had any doubt in our heads that we were going to win. The build-up was just calm, everybody knew what was happening and I think if you watch that game back if you had been playing to now you were never going to lose it. It was comfy and when you do look back on it it would bring a smile to your face.

“I think in 2021 both sides would have been thinking the same, this is set up for us here. In 2018 we were going to have to be at 90 or 95 per cent over an hour and even at that would we have been good enough? Who knows?

“In the first 15 minutes in the [2018] final against Dublin you dared to dream in a way and it was typical of that team you give them oxygen and it was like petrol on a fire, your lights were out very quickly. I think we learned a lot from that defeat.”

There is no doubt for Ronan where the major turning point in his County career came, winning that elusive first Ulster senior medal in 2016 when they came with three late points to edge past old rivals Donegal at Clones to begin a journey that would eventually lead to the Holy Grail in Croke Park.

“I remember being at the 2009 and 2010 Ulster Finals when Tyrone won and people just leaving, it was almost as if it was expected that they were going to win,” he says.

“It was so wrong because you nearly got complacent as a Tyrone supporter as that was the golden generation that had been so successful.

“All of a sudden the tables were turned on us by Donegal in 2011 and 2012 and they had our number until that Final win over them in 2016 as they beat us in the first round of the Ulster championship in both 2013 and 2015 as well.

Ronan McNamee pictured with his proud parents, Johnny and Anne, holding the Allstar award he won three weeks ago. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Ronan McNamee pictured with his proud parents, Johnny and Anne, holding the Allstar award he won three weeks ago. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin Ronan McNamee pictured with his proud parents, Johnny and Anne, holding the Allstar award he won three weeks ago. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“That was a massive win in 2016 because the guts of that team were coming from the minor successes of ‘08 and ‘10 along with the likes of the McMahon and Cavanagh brothers. That win was massive as we had lost Mattie (Donnelly) and Cathal (McShane) to black cards in that game.

“Big Sean [Cavanagh] hit one which was the equaliser when he went past two or three men and hit one up in the sky and it looked as though he had got underneath it and there was no distance on it but I remember it dropping on the back of the net.

“You could sense that something was happening then when that went over and then I was behind Petey Harte’s monster score and I was fit to be tied when that went over. Those are the wee things in your head that you remember.

“It gave us the winning feeling again and getting over the line in something serious which was a big thing for that group and the next step was to get over the line in the big one that had eluded us for so long.

“Looking back on that game there could have been as many as 15 small things that went towards winning that game and 2017 was the same in the semi-final against them [Donegal].

“A number of the All-Ireland winning U21 side of 2015 had also come into the senior squad and them boys coming in had got over the line at a high level and that was massive for the whole group.”

Ronan McNamee had to mark Kerry star David Clifford in the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final.
Ronan McNamee had to mark Kerry star David Clifford in the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Ronan McNamee had to mark Kerry star David Clifford in the 2021 All-Ireland SFC semi-final.

Having lost out to Kerry in both 2013 and 2015 in the semi-final Tyrone were to meet their old adversaries again in 2021 at the same stage - but this time the result would be different in a contest that required extra time to decide.

“I remember in the 2021 semi-final I knew that I was picking up [David] Clifford,” he said.

“You would normally be sharing a room with somebody but because of Covid you were in a room on your own and the more time that you were spending by yourself the more you were thinking about what was happening the next day.

“You were late going to bed and trying to not think too much about it but ultimately in my head it was either get to an All-Ireland Final or this boy is going to retire you.

“That’s what was coming for me that year because I had said to the two boys (Fearghal Logan and Brian Dooher) when they came in that I would give it two years to try and winning an All-Ireland - and I ended up giving it three, even though we won it in their first year.

“David Clifford is something different. Players are readable in that you can do your video work and that and find out their wee traits but I think the likes of him is just so different at times. He is a big, physical player who can go off either side, has explosive pace and is good in the air. He has a mad football IQ.”

Ronan is due to get married next year and no doubt he will feature for his beloved Aghyaran for a few seasons to come and he bows out with no regrets.

“I had a good run at it and I’m happy to step back now and let the younger lads at it,” he said.

“I think it’s important to give new players a go at it and give them a chance to find their feet. That’s what happened to me and I think that it is important for that to happen.”