Napier City Rovers celebrate being back in the top flight. Video / NZ Herald
Goal-scoring sensation Jonny McNamara packed light when he returned to the UK for his best mate’s stag do and wedding.
The 28-year-old Napier City Rovers player boarded his plane in the first half of 2020.
The previous season the Liverpool-born player had been a key part of the side’s run to Chatham Cup glory, in the process being the competition’s top goal-scorer.
With his luggage for the “brief” trip to the UK featuring not much more than some summer clothes for the stag do and a suit for the wedding, McNamara flew out on what was meant to be a two-week trip.
But the arrival of Covid-19 shortly after he left New Zealand – and the resulting lengthy closure of the country’s borders to those not residents or citizens – meant he was unable to return for two and a half years.
“It was a bit of a nightmare . . . I left everything here . . . my PlayStation, my van, my job . . . so it was a bit gutting,” McNamara said.
“Luckily, me mum took me back home and I ended up starting working again. It was then just waiting. I tried to get an exemption for ages [to return] but there was just no chance of getting it because I wasn’t a citizen or resident.”
McNamara spent the next two seasons playing for non-league side Sheffield Town.
The first season was heavily interrupted by Covid-19 cancellations in the UK. But in the 2021-22 season, he scored 41 goals in 21 games before his long-delayed return to New Zealand when the country fully opened its borders.
Despite missing the first seven games of Napier City Rovers’ recent Central League season – where they finished fourth to secure National League qualification – he was still the side’s joint top-scorer alongside Canadian import Leaford Allen.
And in the National League he has also been immense, scoring a goal in Napier City Rovers’ round two 1-1 National League draw with Christchurch United on the road, and will start for the club against Auckland City in Auckland on Sunday in fourth round action.
“I always want to score goals . . . it is the best feeling in football,” McNamara said.
“As long as we are winning games in the National League then I will be a very happy person. One of my jobs is to put the ball in the back of the net and hopefully, I can keep doing that.”
The National League sees McNamara and his teammates come up against the three clubs that finished higher than them in the Central League, plus the top four from the Northern League and the Southern League’s top two.
On Sunday they face competition favourites Auckland City.
Napier City Rovers go into the match in fifth spot on the points table with an unbeaten record of one win and two draws.
They were impressive across the pitch last weekend against Miramar Rangers, holding a deserved 2-0 lead going into the final two minutes. But two late goals left the score locked 2-2 at fulltime.
Had the Rovers held onto the lead, they would have been on top of the points table on goal difference.
Lining up in the highest level of New Zealand domestic football was something McNamara cherished, adding it was a great chance for him and his teammates to shine on the national stage.
He said if Napier City Rovers played to their full potential, the results would come.
“We have to be organised, we have to be ready to play these teams.
“We have to go out there and show them what we have got.
“And it’s just a football game at the end of the day; if one team works harder than the other you can always get the result, no matter what talent you have got in the side.
“When I play football, I want to win everything. I want to finish the highest place possible . . . you want to win leagues, you want to win cups.”
Napier City Rovers fans have the power of social media to thank for McNamara’s signing with the club.
He came via English non-league team Biggleswade Town,
“Some guy tweeted something like, ‘Looking for players in England that want to have a chance to play abroad’,” he said.
“So, I messaged him and two weeks later I was flying to New Zealand to come and play for Napier. It was crazy.”
He was loving life in Hawke’s Bay, and said Napier City Rovers was a perfect fit for his personality.
“It’s a very family-orientated club and I feel welcome here,” McNamara said. “I don’t ever feel like an outsider . . . that is why I love this club.”
McNamara, like his teammates, holds down a day job due to the amateur status of the Central and National leagues where players can’t be paid to play.
McNamara is a gasfitter and plumber, a trade he has worked in since he was 17.
On the three days a week that Napier City Rovers train, work and football commitments means McNamara leaves his house at 6.30am and often doesn’t return home until 14 hours later.
“It’s a big sacrifice . . . it’s not like we can rest all day and be fresh for training and fresh for games,” he said.
“I’m under houses and digging trenches all week.”
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