Tony McNamee’s recent return to Swilly Rovers has coincided with the Ramelton club showing an upturn in fortunes.
The 23-year-old playmaker was instrumental in Swilly’s wins over Cockhill Celtic and Derry City Reserves and has been named as the Watson Menswear Player of the Month for January 2017.
McNamee left Finn Harps at the end of the 2016 season and returned to Swilly Park, to the club he grew up with and to the club he departed when his senior career was beginning at Derry City.
McNamee came into a Swilly team that was winless in the opening five months of the season, but who sent ripples of shock through the League with a 3-2 win over Cockhill that was the champions’ first League loss in a 72-game streak stretching back to July 2012.
Swilly followed that up by defeating Derry City Reserves 2-0 in Ramelton a coulpe of weeks ago.
“We’re being competitive now most of the time,” McNamee said.
“I’ve been talking to the senior boys and they’re saying that the main thing they want now is to be competitive in all games between now and the end of the season.
“There is good local talent in Swilly and the main thing is getting people out enjoying to games in Swilly Park again, even to watch games.
“There are no big-time Charlies here, even if people would argue differently, but players are here because they want to be.
“It’s a young squad. I’m 23 and am the fifth oldest. The rest are mainly all under 21, so they’ll benefit from playing in the USL.”
McNamee had been Harps’ Young Player of the Year in the promotion-winning season in 2015.
Last month, he revealed that frustrations with an increasing amount of time on the bench as well as his work commitments at Michael Murphy Sports & Leisure contributed to his decision to leave.
McNamee has also started a course, from which he hopes to obtain a qualification to work as a Special Needs Assistant.
There are those who will have scoffed at his return to the USL, but McNamee said: “A lot of people will say it’s a downgrade, but a lot of players here could go up a level.
“Even the likes of Cockhill could probably do well in the First Division and there are plenty of senior players in the USL. I think the USL is well up in standard and I would urge any junior team with ambition to make the step up.”
Harps have returned to the USL this season, making an eleventh hour entry to join City, who have really flourished since re-entering a number of seasons ago.
McNamee has seen the benefits during his time at both clubs.
He said: “It’s very beneficial for the likes of Derry and Harps, who are trying to blood players. Harps only came back in this season.
“I was at Harps last season and saw how they could have benefitted from being in the USL.
“The likes of Michael Rafter, who was long-term injured, had to go straight into the first team because he had nowhere to get game time.
“For the under-19s, it’s a step up in physicality and a step up to play against grown men. The young players will really benefit from that and it’ll help them to get better.”
Swilly have had good success at underage level of late with their sides flying the county flag in SFAI Cups, their Under-16s reaching the quarter-finals with a win over Naas at the weekend.
McNamee says it is no surprise – and hopes that the Ramelton side can continue a long tradition of producing senior players.
He said: “There’s been good underage at Swilly for a long time, going back to when the likes of Conrad Logan and Kieran Harte came through, up to say when the likes of myself and Barry went to Derry.
“Now, there are good young players still going to Derry and Harps. There has always been good football talent in Ramelton.
“That structure has been put in by the likes of Dad (Tony senior), PJ Cavanagh, Jim McCahill, Gerry Crossan and Jonny McGroarty, the coaching has always been gone on and Paula is there now with the ladies too.”
The Watson Menswear Player of the Month is presented in conjunction with Watson Menswear, Main Street, Letterkenny.
September: Cathal Farren (Derry City Reserves)
October: Peter Doherty (Cockhill Celtic)
November: Shaun McElwaine (Fanad United)
January: Tony McNamee (Swilly Rovers)