Terry O’Neill had been part of the fabric of the St Gall’s attack for so long that the notion of him fulfilling any other role for club or county would have been deemed laughable but that was until Liam Bradley stepped in as Saffrons boss last year.
Shortly after taking over, he noted O’Neill’s astute reading of games, smooth distribution and clever covering and immediately ear-marked him for a role which he was to fulfil to perfection, that of sweeper.
O’Neill indeed proved one of the most influential figures in the Antrim side last year, slotting into a central post in the defence from where he not only broke up opposition attacks but masterminded counter-assaults that quite often produced important scores as Antrim charted a successful journey through the National League before embarking on their stirring championship odyssey.
But the element of surprise that O’Neill brought to the proceedings will be missing this year although he will still be a key figure in the Antrim set-up.
“Obviously it is good to get back in the Antrim side after the All Ireland Club final and now that we are facing Tyrone, things are at a different level,” says O’Neill.
“Although we reached the Ulster final last year we did not do as well as we would have wished and we want to try and go the distance this time round.”
As well as being a proficient footballer, he is also a skilful hurler having represented his county on many occasions in the small ball code.
Indeed Saffrons hurling boss Dinny Cahill is well aware of O’Neill’s talents but for the moment the player’s sights are focussed on trying to help Antrim go the extra mile this year in the football championship.
“I know we made people sit up and take notice last year but teams will be ready for us this time,” maintains O’Neill.
“Tyrone are very experienced at coping with challenges and it is up to us to try and hit our best form.
“We will certainly need to do this if we are to have any chance of advancing in the competition.”