The McNamee household will be separated like never before tonight as brothers Barry and Tony compete on opposite sides of the hostile divide between Derry City and Finn Harps.
Tomorrow morning the two talented brothers will wake up under the same roof in their family home in Ramelton, even share the same breakfast table, but both are desperate to own the bragging rights.
As Derry City midfielder, Barry (24), takes up his position in the middle of the park prior to kick-off, a few short yards away Tony (22) will be decked out in the blue strip of Harps, likely tasked with the job of man-marking his elder brother in a potentially intriguing midfield battle.
So theirs will certainly be a house divided as their careers, which once ran parallel, have taken rival paths and their relationship will be stretched to breaking point tonight at Finn Park as Derry City meet Finn Harps in a league fixture for the first time since 2008.
It won’t be the first time that the two siblings have been in opposition to each other but it will be the first time at senior level and it just so happens to be in a North West derby clash on the opening day of the Airtricity Premier League season.
Formerly teammates at Derry City, the McNamee brothers have come face-to-face on opposite sides just once before - in a local junior football match which still leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the elder sibling, Barry.
He recalls that game ended prematurely for him and the brothers refused to speak for a fortnight afterwards. And while he refused to elaborate on the circumstances of that particularly rivalry, he claims tonight’s meeting is a long awaited chance for ‘revenge’.
Barry is expected to play a key role for Derry City this season in the absence of Patrick McEleney and Mark Timlin who have gone on to pastures new and, being the most senior brother in action tonight, he’s determined to come out on top in what could be a pivotal battle in the middle of the park.
“For many years, Harps and Derry have had some big games,” said Barry. “It’s about time it’s back in the Premier Division. Both sets of fans and both sets of players will be up for it. And, yes, there is a bit of extra spice to it,” he smiled. “But I have to try and put that to one side and concentrate on doing the best for the team.
“We know the quality Tony has. He was brought up playing football, playing the ball on the ground. Whether that’s going to suit Harps this season, I don’t know - that’s up to Ollie (Horgan).
“He wasn’t really getting his chances in the team at the start of the year but came in and ended up getting their ‘Young Player of the Year’ award so he has a point to prove. But it’s not my job to concern myself about him until Friday night and then after that it’s up to him again.
“We played against each other maybe once and it didn’t end so well,” he recalled. “It was just a local game and I don’t think I lasted the full game anyway. That’s the most can be said about that,” he laughed. “So maybe Friday night’s about getting a wee bit of revenge.
“We both will probably get close together during the match. Tony played his football at Derry and when you look at their team you have Ciaran Gallagher, Ryan Curran, Sean Houston and Raymond Foy so the majority of their team have come from here as well so they will all have a point to prove. Maybe they shouldn’t have been let go from here but it will be one versus one and 11 against 11 - it’s just important we get three points to kick-start the season.
“The Cork game next week is obviously going to be massive but we can’t look past Friday night. Every game is worth three points and we have to give our full attention to Friday night and Finn Harps.
“It doesn’t matter when in the season the derbies come. They threw it up first game and it’s going to be a battle. We may not play our best football of the season in it but we have to get the three points. We need a bit of momentum at the start of the season because we seen last year how hard it is to get off the bottom of the table once you’re down there.
“It’s been a long seven or eight weeks and, even before that, we’ve been in since the last week of November, three days a week with the local boys, so I just can’t wait to get going now. The legs are there, the sharpness is there so I just can’t wait till Friday night.”
Barry’s father, Tony, will be no doubt attempting to adopt a neutral stance with his sons on opposite sides and he’ll likely be found taking a safe position on a Finn Park fence.
Indeed, whichever way the result goes tonight, Tony Snr. will attempt to keep the family support even-handed. But, of course, there’s a third brother, Shane, also on the books of Derry City. So have loyalties, perhaps, been swayed in favour of the Brandywell club?
“I don’t want to say where my dad’s loyalty lies,” said Barry. “It would be fairly split from the rest of the family anyway. I haven’t played against Tony too often so it’s going to be a bit different but I’m looking forward to it.”
Tony’s Ready for Battle
For Tony, tonight’s match is hugely significant as he comes up against, not only his brother, but the team which found him surplus to requirements two seasons ago. And the Harps man gave another insight into the family home of the McNamees by revealing his dad, who has played a huge role in all his sons’ careers, is hoping for both players to be heavily involved on the scoresheet.
“I don’t actually know where my dad’s loyalties lie” said Tony. “I’m sure he wants us both to do well so he won’t be supporting one more than the other. Although, in saying that, my dad was leaving Shane into training in Derry and he was laughing and joking that he’ll be supporting Derry. And then he said to me: “you know what, I hope you score a hat-trick but I hope Barry scores four!” So it’s been more of a laugh and a joke at the minute.”
And while he also refused to further indulge in the incident which led to Barry leaving the pitch during that only match which saw their courses clash, he simply said he was preparing for a keenly contested personal battle tonight.
“It’s not as if I’m going to let Barry run free and tackle everyone else and Barry’s not going to let me run past him,” said Tony. “But if there was a 50/50 between us, I would fancy myself to win it,” he laughed.
“We were chatting about it recently and, if there’s a tackle to be won, we’re not going to pull out just because we’re brothers. There’s no way you’re going to let your brother go past you and go on and score.
“We could be told to just mark each other because we play in the same position. I’m sure our family will want us both to do well. I don’t think they will want a result to go either way - they’ll be hoping for a draw.”
The pair boast similar attributes and like to play with the ball on the ground. Barry’s predominantly left footed while Tony’s stronger on his right - but both are equally as graceful and effective on the ball.
“We’re very similar,” said Tony. “Barry would probably have a bit more vision than me whereas I would be more keener on a tackle than Barry. Barry would be leaner and taller whereas I would be more stocky. Fitness-wise, there would be very little in it. He might be a bit quicker over a shorter distance and I might be quicker over a longer distance but we would be very similar players. It’ll be interesting to see how the game goes.”
So, while tonight’s clash will turn the McNamee household into one divided by a football rivalry, family will still be family and tensions will no doubt ease significantly after the first North West derby of the season - that’s until the next one!