Davitts’ Ronan McNamara is making up for lost time
tHE longer this excellent adventure of the Davitts’ footballers goes on, the more you realise that there is so much more to them than meets the eye.
Their reputation for being an ‘old school’ group of lads who play hard and live harder, but ultimately come up short, was banished by last October’s County Intermediate final win.
And they have gone from strength to strength ever since.
Just take Ronan McNamara for example, their towering midfielder whose career thus far has been overshadowed by a succession of knee injuries that have seen him miss four of the last seven seasons.
Such a run of bad luck and misfortune would have broken lesser men, but not Ronan Mac’. In fact, if anything, it has made him stronger.
Watching on from the sidelines in 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2009 as Davitts crashed and burned in the championship, the Garda from Skevana in Ballindine made plenty of mental notes.
He noticed the indiscipline, haphazard attitude, lack of commitment and general malaise that seemed to affect his team-mates when the chips were down.
And he knew, deep down, that he was no different.
It was what Davitts did; their talent and ability was never in doubt but, when the chips were down, often they lost interest. The easy way out seemed to appeal to them.
Now, as he ponders the prospect of an All-Ireland semi-final, and reflects on a ‘fantastic’ season that has already brought three titles (the O’Mara Cup, and the Mayo and Connacht championships), as well as promotion to the upper tier of the senior league, McNamara can’t help but smile.
“It’s been the most enjoyable year of my life. It started off like any other year and just snowballed, from the O’Mara Cup to an All-Ireland semi-final. All year the crowds have been getting bigger, the squad has grown, and it just gets better and better.
“I’ll never forget all the bonfires that people lit for us all along the route home after the Connacht final,” he recalls.
“They were burning from Cloonfad all the way back to Ballindine. People came out in droves to welcome us back and that would really bring it home to you.”
The arrival of Pete Warren as manager at the beginning of the year has proved a watershed moment for these Davitts players, and McNamara admits that the new approach has served them well.
“We’ve been very lucky with injuries this season and suspensions, which always seemed to be a problem for us, haven’t been an issue either,” he offers.
“Pete Warren brought a lot of professionalism into the set-up as well and lads started to knuckle down.
“Funnily enough, once we won the O’Mara Cup I think lads started to buy into it what Pete wanted to do. That showed if you worked hard, you’ll get your reward.
“Every single one of us realise now that you get out of it what you put into it. Lads that might have taken it as it came in the past are buying in now. It’s amazing. It’s a total cliché but it is about the 34 lads in the panel, not just the 15 starting.
“Some of the best games we’ve had all year have been the 15 against 15 matches in training. That never happened in Davitts before.”
NO conversation with Ronan McNamara would be complete without discussing his knees. They have dominated any debate about him as a footballer over the last seven years, and tested his resolve to the limit.
He played county minor in 2001 and was at midfield on the U-21 team that lost an All-Ireland Final to Armagh three years later.
His footballing life was just getting started and John Maughan, the-then Mayo senior manager, was known to be a big fan of the Davitts’ powerhouse.
But when McNamara’s left knee blew out, an endless succession of appointments, scans, assessments and consultations began and he spent two years on the sidelines.
In December 2007, his knee gave way again during a training session with the Garda Sigerson team in Templemore. He thought that was that.
Two more seasons were spent recovering and rehabilitating as he finally got a surgeon to do some reconstructive work.
He returned in 2010, complete with an exercise programme that has been tailored for his specific needs, and the year passed off without incident both for McNamara and Davitts.
Last season his knee and his excellent form had been holding up nicely too until a league match against Breaffy when he twisted his right leg awkwardly. He knew he had done damage to his knee again; the only question was, how much?
“I thought it was gone again. I thought the year was over,” he admits. “When I finally got to see the specialist he said, ‘You’re like a rally car and I’m the mechanic. You can do the rally, you may get around the course, but your brakes are worn and could go at any time’.
“So I know that my knee could give way at any stage but, please God, it will hold out until the end of this run, and then I will it get it worked on.”
Being just one hour away from a shot at the All-Ireland title and a chance to run out at Croke Park, it goes without saying that Davitts’ main priority is Eire Óg next Sunday.
However, it’s interesting to hear Ronan McNamara talk about his goals for next season and how he is already looking forward to testing himself against the best of the best in the Mayo senior championship.
There is a sense that the 28 years-old, who believes, “I’m as fit as I’ve ever been” intends to make up for lost time.
“Personally, I know there’s more in me. If I can stay injury-free I know it’s onwards and upwards.
“The fact that we’ll be playing senior next summer is a big thing for me. I know my commitment is going to have to be absolute if I want to do myself justice at that level. Stuff you might get away with at Intermediate, you just won’t at senior.
“Next year is going to be a great chance for all of us to test ourselves against the best footballers in the county.
“For me, that’s Barry Moran. I think that if he stays injury free, and gets a run with Mayo, he is All Star material. For me, he’s head and shoulders above everyone else in the county at the moment.”
But that is for another day. This week he will pass the evenings when Davitts don’t train either in the gym in Ballindine or at the pool in the McWilliam Hotel in Claremorris. A lot of his team-mates will be there too.
Times, and attitudes, have changed in Davitts GAA club when it comes to commitment, sacrifice and discipline.
Thankfully, though, some things remain the same.
“Getting nervous wouldn’t be in our nature,” smiles McNamara.
“Lads will just do what they’ve always done. The players are just getting on with it, there’s a great sense of calm. Our preparation is done so it’s up to us to perform now to the best of our ability.
“We know that Davitts people from all over the world will be watching us, and this is our chance to make history.
“Before, when I was injured, I had my fun. Now that I’m back playing I realise that there is something to aim for. This is a great opportunity for me, for all of us.”
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 15st 10lbs
Did you know?
His father, Liam, is a native of Louisburgh and only played one game of football in his life. “And he had to borrow a pair of boots for it!” joked Ronan.