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McNamee is relishing a physical showdown with Oriels

Tyrone v Monaghan, NFL Division One: Healy Park, Omagh, Tonight, 7.30pm

By Declan Bogue

For Ronan McNamee, the disappointment felt while walking off the Croke Park pitch after defeat in last August's All-Ireland quarter-final to Mayo was just too much.

That loss - suffered with Tipperary already waiting in the semi-final - remains a touchstone within the Tyrone panel of a chance of an All-Ireland that they, and they alone, let slip through their hands.

Aghyaran man McNamee still had club games to play, but jetted off to New York to escape Gaelic football for a bit. He worked a bit and toured for a while, but then he thought of escaping to his brother Conor in Australia.

An engineer with Laing O'Rourke, Conor is responsible for 50km of the Pacific Highway that runs from Brisbane and Sydney. Ronan joined him in his new home of Yamba, northern New South Wales, where the Clarence River empties itself into the Pacific.

With the Wooloweyah Lagoon carving into Hickey Island, it is perfect Australian serenity.

"There is all ends to a great life out there with the money, the sunshine. A different world, a completely different world," said McNamee, his mind casting back to a blissful three months.

"Conor is a big fisherman. He loves going out on his boat and fishing for wee flathead fish, and he has crab pots. We were getting a big box, filling it with beer and going out on the boat all day, hanging out the crab pots, going fishing. It was unbelievable."

It certainly beats a dead rubber league game away to Greencastle, with the wind blowing you off the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains.

And given the choice and the chance, the Tyrone full-back will sample more of that life.

"If an opportunity like that arose, you definitely would not turn it down," the 26-year-old said.

"You have to get something out of it at some stage. Football is only going to take you so far. You have to plan ahead and have a life at some stage and earn money."

McNamee's lament is a common one among the young men that are engaged in inter-county football. To say 'play' has become an inaccurate term. Being an inter-county ace is now a living, breathing, all-consuming affair.

It leaves no real room for outside interests or hobbies. But the lure of playing for the county is often enough from season to season.

"It will keep me here for a while anyway," said McNamee, before issuing a gentle reminder almost to himself. "At the same time, you are only young once and you have aspirations to go and do things.

"This here, football, was obviously top of the list when you were younger. But when you come to a certain age…

"Conor has been out there for the last five years. He has definitely done really, really well for himself. And what's five years? If you went out for a lock of years you would be setting yourself up nicely.

"He is talking about coming home and building a house. I couldn't afford a toy house at the minute, never mind looking for planning permission."

Once McNamee returned from his travels, he took his place in University of Ulster, Jordanstown where he is two years into a Sports Science course.

He doesn't have to look too far to see a pathway back to Australia if that's where he sees his future.

A while ago, the course director took off to take a three-year term as a visiting professor in three Australian Universities.

There are enough familiar faces there, including one in Willie Moore who has been involved in the athletic development of Tyrone players in years gone by.

It's no coincidence either that Peter Donnelly, the former Red Hands player who is their current physical trainer, walked down the same path.

All of that, however, is for the future. In the here and now, Tyrone swing back into action tonight by welcoming their fond neighbours Monaghan to Healy Park in the Allianz League.

That's weather permitting, of course. Last Sunday, the Tyrone panel and management sat in Kelly's Inn in Garvaghey after their pre-match meal, knowing full well that the rain had put paid to their league fixture against Cavan.

It's a recurring problem with the Gortin Road venue.

"When it rains in Healy, it seems to lie. There's not much we can do about it," sighed McNamee.

"Cavan were in Healy at that stage. But you knew leaving your own home that it wasn't going to be on. There was no pitch that could have held it and Healy is wet at the best of times."

Some players went across the road to do a workout in the gym at the Garvaghey complex while McNamee made it back to north Tyrone hard on the Donegal border, sat down to watch Donegal against Dublin and fitted in a kickabout in the evening.

Watching Dublin and Donegal draw brought back memories of the Red Hands' recent league tussle with the Dubs, and how close they came to ending that 30-plus unbeaten streak.

"There was a sense in our own heads that we were deserving of a victory," he recalled.

"Nobody would have begrudged it to us if we had got the two points. It's easy getting yourself up for Dublin, it's the games that come after it that you need to be almost better prepared as there are ambushes everywhere."

In Croke Park, he found himself up against Eoghan O'Gara. The Templeogue Synge Street man had an inch or two on McNamee and they had an evening where their wrestling skills were called into action.

Tyrone fans with an admiration for the way the likes of Ryan McMenamin and Conor Gormley went about their business will be heartened to learn that McNamee relishes this side of the game. In the Tyrone backline, the snarl is back.

Asked if the Oriels will be hoping to mix it physically, he answered straight away: "I hope so, I hope so.

"Any time we play them it is a good tussle, there's no holding back on either front. They throw the kitchen sink at us and vice versa. I can't imagine there being an awful lot in it. But definitely, I'm definitely looking forward to it."

Belfast Telegraph

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