Saturday 16 December 2017

McNamee brace sees Rhode win

Offaly champions set their sights on Leinster glory

EVEN on a struggling Offaly team, Niall McNamee's prolific talent has long been recognised on the national stage.

He has a way with words, too, as the Rhode captain underlined with a lengthy oration that name-checked all the key personnel behind their latest Offaly SFC title, the 24th in the club's proud history.

McNamee's victory speech also highlighted the one piece of silverware that still eludes Rhode -- the AIB Leinster club crown that now becomes their latest mission in life after yesterday's 3-9 to 2-11 triumph over holders Clara.

Twice in the last half-decade, Rhode have reached a provincial decider only to falter at the final hurdle -- losing to Moorefield in 2006 and then to Kilmacud Crokes in '08.

The latter defeat was particularly gut-wrenching: the Offaly men were six points and a man up at the break only to suffer a second half implosion against the Dubs. "I even have bad dreams about it still," admitted Tom Coffey, Rhode manager then and now.

Coffey stressed that after the obligatory one or two nights of celebration, Rhode will be "knuckling down" for another assault on Leinster, starting with a quarter-final opener against the Carlow champions, either Rathvilly or Old Leighlin.

McNamee, yesterday's Man of the Match with a 2-4 haul, echoed his boss. "In years gone by we just wanted to win the county final and that was the end of it, but now that we've got a taste for Leinster we want to make amends," the Rhode skipper explained.

"Moorefield beat us in 2006 and Kilmacud beat us in 2008, games we could have won. Lads are eager to get back into it. The likes of Roy (Malone) may be in his last couple of years with us, so it'd be a nice fitting thing for him to finish his career with a Leinster medal. Hopefully we can give it a good rattle."

Rhode will be encouraged by the resolve shown in testing circumstances in front of 6,500 O'Connor Park customers. Surrendering six-point cushions had become a dangerous habit in recent seasons -- Kilmacud in '08, then Clara in last year's county final -- so their failure to capitalise on both the wind and a glut of first half chances boded ominously here.

Having twice led by a goal, they were pegged back to parity (2-1 to 1-4) after an underwhelming first half. McNamee had waltzed past his marker John Ledwith, then Clara 'keeper Kevin Meehan, to grab a brilliant first goal after eight minutes.

Thomas Deehan, teed up by the excellent John Reynolds, palmed home a 12th minute reply only for Anton Sullivan, set up by his brother Páraic, to fist a carbon-copy Rhode riposte. Still, Clara looked poised to push on, having clipped the last three points of a turgid second quarter.

A rip-roaring second half was in stark contrast to the first, but Clara looked to have all the momentum when leading 1-7 to 2-2. Re-enter McNamee, who banished his own shooting blues (five first half wides) with a stunning 1-2 salvo in just four minutes.

His 39th minute goal, finished with aplomb after turning past Joe Quinn, restored a one-point lead for the challengers. His follow-up brace of exquisite points, coupled with Niall Darby's pinpoint shooting (mostly from frees) and the workaholic roaming of Anton Sullivan, propelled Rhode into a commanding four-point lead late on.

John O'Hara, the one-time Dublin minor, created some injury-time drama when his 20-metre daisy-cutter found the net, but the clock eventually beat Clara despite the best efforts of Reynolds, O'Hara himself and the free-taking of Deehan.

SCORERS -- Rhode: N McNamee 2-4 (0-2f), N Darby 0-5 (4f), A Sullivan 1-0. Clara: T Deehan 1-6 (0-6f), J O'Hara 1-2, J Reynolds 0-3.

RHODE: E McDonald; C Heavey, D Murphy, B Darby; R Leavy, D Hope, S Sullivan; M Dunne, R Malone; N Darby, P Sullivan, A Sullivan; J Coffey, P Kellaghan, N McNamee. Subs: A McNamee for Coffey (28), E Byrne for Leavy (ht), J Kilmurray for Malone (57). BOOKED: Coffey (22), P Sullivan (35), Kellaghan (51), A McNamee (56), A Sullivan (58). WIDES: 8 (8+0).

CLARA: K Meehan; J Ledwith, J Quinn, D Kelly; D Ledwith, M Mitchell, L Hiney; S Brady, R Brady; T Dalton, J Reynolds, P Deehan; T Deehan, J O'Hara, G Guilfoyle. Subs: A Cronin for J Ledwith (23), M Stones for Hiney (45), K O'Meara for Dalton (57), P Flanagan for P Deehan (57), C Kelly for D Ledwith (60).

BOOKED: S Brady (27), P Deehan (38), Kelly (50). WIDES: 6 (4+2).

REF: D Brazil (Shannonbridge).

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