Defender steps into U18 profile spotlight.
Football or rugby.
That was the choice facing young defender Tom McNamee at an early career crossroads.
The strapping centre-back was working his way through Sunderland’s Academy system while also playing the oval ball game at Newcastle Falcons’ development centre.
It came down to a straight choice – taking the scholarship here or continuing with the rugby
- Tom McNamee
Football won, with McNamee joining the Black Cats’ under-18s on a full-time basis in summer 2011.
Now in the second year of his scholarship at the Academy of Light, McNamee does miss rugby union but says he made the right choice in following his footballing dream.
“I played both all the way up through school to under-16, balancing the two,” he explained.
“I was in the Falcons’ development squad, training twice a week with them while playing for my county and the north east.
“It came down to a straight choice – taking the scholarship here or continuing with the rugby.
“I love football more so that was what I chose. I do miss rugby but I think football was the better direction for me.”
McNamee had joined Sunderland at under-14 level, having previously played for Winlaton and Consett.
He initially started as a midfielder but moved back into central defence after joining the Academy – a move which McNamee says “suits him”.
The youngster made 14 appearances for the under-18s last season but saw his progress hampered by an injury in the closing stages of the campaign.
He tore the cartilage in his knee – an injury which required an operation – but the road to recovery wasn’t an easy one.
“The aim was to get back fit in time for the new season,” he explained.
“We played Bolton away the week before and afterwards my knee blew up like a balloon.
“I’d done the injury again and had another operation the next day.”
But McNamee is remarkably philosophical about the setback, describing it as “one of those things”.
“In football there’s always the risk of something like that happening,” he added.
“I feel like I overcame something big and that if anything happened in the future I’ve been there and could hopefully deal with it.”
It’s a massive time for me to play well and try to keep my form up
- McNamee on U21 chance
The defender worked hard throughout his rehab, taking on extra work to improve what he felt were weaknesses in his game.
That hard work was rewarded with a return to action in the early stages of the season and the last few weeks have seen him progress into the under-21 squad.
“It’s gone from that low to a high,” said the defender, who has enjoyed a run of four successive starts for Kevin Ball’s outfit.
“There’s been a few injuries in the under-21s and I got the chance to start against Chelsea.
“It’s definitely a big step up. In the youth team you’re always facing players of a similar age, but that isn’t the case in the under-21s where older players can play.
“The game’s faster and you have to try and step up to deal with that.”
He added: “It’s a massive time for me to play well and try to keep my form up.
“I’ve got to take the chance. Hopefully I can make my mark and show that I am good enough to play.”