Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

O'Neill aims to follow award with title win

Stephen O'Neill
Stephen O'Neill

Tyrone skipper Stephen O'Neill received the perfect boost in advance of Sunday's Allianz League semi-final against Kildare when he was named as the March winner of the Ulster GAA Writers' Association monthly merit award.

For O'Neill, this is a nap hand of writers' prizes as he had won the accolade on four occasions in the past.

The Clan na gael clubman produced a series of outstanding performances for his county during March when his qualities of leadership and scoring expertise had much to do with the Red Hands' arrival in Sunday's eagerly-awaited last four confrontation with Kieran McGeeney's men.

O'Neill, clearly revelling in his role as skipper, has been setting the template for his colleagues through his commitment and zeal, with Tyrone galloping through the first three months of the year, suffering just one reverse, against reigning league champions Cork.

It's 10 years since Tyrone last won the league crown and O'Neill makes no secret of his desire to lead the team to the second most important trophy on offer at inter-county level.

"It would be great if we could follow up our McKenna Cup success by winning the league title," says O'Neill.

"The fact that a number of younger players have come into our side and reached a high level of consistency is hugely encouraging. Competition for places is fierce and that's exactly the way that manager Mickey Harte wants it," he adds.

O'Neill's subtle skills, experience and guile have helped the new-look Tyrone side flash out the message that not only is the league title within their compass but championship success could also be in the pipeline.

Caution, though, prevails as O'Neill ponders the closing stages of a league campaign which has seen Tyrone turn in several impressive performances in front of some of the biggest attendances to grace the competition.

"It's very encouraging to see our supporters coming out in such huge numbers and hopefully we will be able to deliver the league crown for them.

"Obviously there is a lot of talk about our Ulster Championship match against Donegal next month but we will just take things one step at a time and see where that takes us," says O'Neill.

He fended off strong competition to win the March award from Tyrone colleague Niall Morgan, Conor McManus (Monaghan), Michael Murphy (Donegal) and Antrim hurling captain Neil McManus.

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