The name McAree is synonymous with Dungannon Swifts as Rodney McAree and his father Joe, the original Mr. Dungannon, have been involved with the club in various roles over the years. Indeed it may be hard for some Irish League fans to imagine Rodney McAree involved with any other Irish League club but in fact Rodney played for a few other clubs and is still regarded as something of a cult hero by the fans of one English Championship club from London.
Rodney McAree’s footballing career started as a trainee at Liverpool but unfortunately he couldn’t quite make the grade at Anfield and moved onto Bristol City where he did make a handful of appearances before moving on again, Rodney had a brief spell at home playing for his boyhood club Dungannon Swifts but the opportunity to head back across the water again arose and Rodney signed for London club Fulham. At this time Fulham were at their lowest point as a club, struggling in the Third Division, as it was known at the time but when Mickey Adams replaced Ian Branfoot as manager the club managed to pull themselves out of the relegation zone to safety. Injury curtailed McAree’s progress at Fulham and in his three seasons at the club he only made 34 appearances but McAree’s name can still be heard on the terraces at Craven Cottage due to one particular moment. Fast forward a year on from Fulham’s darkest hours and they are now challenging for promotion from the Third Division and on the 5th April 1997 in a crucial promotion six-pointer McAree scored the winner in an away game against Carlisle United, a goal and a win that all but secured the Whites promotion that season. While a goal that secured promotion from English footballs basement division may not seem like a remarkable achievement but it was a goal that paved the way for Fulham to go on and get promoted to the First Division and then the Premiership were they established themselves for several years, even making it all the way to a Europa League final. Rodney McAree has been invited back as a guest to Fulham since his landmark goal and is always assured of a warm welcome anytime he visits the club.
His career with Fulham did eventually come to an end though and was followed with spells at Chesham United, Crawley Town and when he returned to Northern Ireland he spent time with Glenavon before going back ‘home’ when he rejoined Dungannon Swifts, who were managed by his father Joe at this time. At Dungannon McAree quickly established himself as a key player and captained the side for many years, in his early years with the Swifts he was part of the team that won the Ulster Cup, the Mid-Ulster Cup and also won promotion to the Premiership for the first time in the clubs history. The father and son duo continued for a few more years as Dungannon had a respectable first season in the Premiership before going onto establish themselves as a top Premiership team for a few years qualifying for Europe and the all-Ireland competition the Setanta Cup. Joe McAree eventually stood down as manager but Rodney remained at the club through the tenures of Harry Fay and John Cunningham and when the former guided Dungannon to the 2007 Irish Cup final Rodney proudly led his local and boyhood club onto the pitch to do battle with Linfield. The Swifts came from behind twice, the second goal coming from none other than a Rodney McAree free-kick, as Dungannon forced the league winners all the way to penalties, Rodney converted his effort from the spot but unfortunately Dungannon lost out 3-2.
When Dixie Robinson took over as Dungannon’s manager Rodney McAree joined his backroom staff, combining his playing duties with the role of first-team coach before hanging up his boots in October 2009 to focus solely on that role. When Robinson then resigned in December 2011 there was only one man the Swifts board turned to and Rodney was appointed manager but sadly this appointment was shortly lived as an issue arose with McAree’s coaching badges that led to him having to stand down but he stayed at the club as assistant manager to his former team-mate Darren Murphy. McAree stayed in this role for over three years, though he did take a brief break from football in between times, and when Murphy resigned from the role of manager due to work commitments McAree’s chance came again and he was announced as the new Dungannon manager October 2015. McAree took over a Dungannon team that was sitting second bottom in the Premiership but managed to lead the team to a 7th placed finish (out of 12), the clubs highrst placed finish since the 2009/10 season. Last season it what was McAree’s first full season as a manager he was able to replicate that finish 7th again and qualifying for the Irish League European Play-Offs (4th-7th play-off for the Irish Leagues final European spot) but they lost out in the semi-final. Some expected Dungannon to struggle this season due to the loss of top scorer Andrew Mitchell but their still holding their own currently sitting 8th in the table.
One thing that most fans can agree on is that Rodney McAree was and still is a fantastic servant to Dungannon Swifts and Irish League football as a whole, as indeed was his father Joe, and his name will forevermore be written in the history books of Dungannon Swifts and Fulham FC.