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Darren O Neill of Eire Og in action against Padraig Kelly of St Breckan's during their senior championship semi final at Cusack Park. Photograph by John Kelly

O’Neill relishing second chance for Ennis side

Darren O’Neill is an example of how hard work can help a person overcome setbacks they face on the field of play.
The experienced midfielder was a key part of Éire Óg’s run to the county final in 2014 but since then a bad run of luck with injuries had forced him to watch from afar.
O’Neill has suffered and rehabbed the dreaded cruciate ligament injury while also requiring surgery earlier this year for a troublesome knee injury.
The 30 year old insists that his body has responded well in a year which saw him start a Championship game for Clare for the first time since 2011.
“I did the ACL at the end of 2018. I was able to play last year and train but when I’d be finished training my knee would be very sore afterwards. It was after training when I’d feel it. It’s a tough one because you can have negative thoughts. With the knee I just got caught out but there isn’t much you can do.”

“With any rehab you go from month to month and hope it heals. When I came back last year I found a bit of form. I was lucky enough to get called up to the Clare panel last year and although I didn’t get gametime, training and being around great players really stood to me.”
O’Neill is now an elder statesman in a young and exciting Éire Óg side that have combined some free flowing football with tigerish defending to moved just 60 minutes away from lifting the Jack Daly Cup.
The county player states that he tries to give advice where possible to his teammates but insists that he will only do so if the time is right.
“I am the oldest in the squad I believe. Back in 2014 (when Éire Óg last appeared in the county final) we had a few lads over 30 so it’s all changed. I try to talk and give tips and hopefully it’s useful to the lads. There will be other weeks where training would be going well and I wouldn’t feel the need to say much.”
With county players at senior, U20 and minor level all having county action when the club was competing in the Cusack Cup, O’Neill believes that the players who were lining out in the cold spring months have helped to maintain the standard for the returning county players later in the year.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the lads on the panel who may not have seen game time in the Championship. They have been ever present at training throughout the year. When the hurlers are away they are the lads still driving it on. At the start of the year they were the ones representing the club in the league and they are always trying to improve. They keep the standards high and make sure training is competitive.”
O’Neill doesn’t want his side to suffer a repeat of the 2014 county final when they struggled to settle in to the contest before succumbing to a seven point defeat.
“The big games can pass you by so we need to get going early. We didn’t start well in 2014. We conceded an early goal and we can’t afford to do that against Kilmurry/Ibrickane. We have to get stuck in early.”
With the ‘Bricks appearing in their fifth final in six years as they seek to retain their crown that they wrestled back last year, the hard working midfielder is under no illusions to the size of the task his side face on Sunday afternoon.
“They have an excellent record and it’s not by luck that they have been getting to finals so consistently. It is a massive test. We are testing ourselves against the best. They are the standard bearers so we aren’t taking anything lightly. We knew if we wanted to win a county title we would have to beat them along the way.”
“We will focus on our own gameplan and stick to the way we’ve been playing all year. We know Paul (Madden) mentions work rate to us a lot. Work rate trumps a lot of things and then when you work hard the result looks after itself so hopefully we come out the right side on Sunday.”

by Ivan Smyth

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