Injury made me fear for my Crusaders future, admits O'Neill
Goalkeeper Sean O'Neill has admitted he feared his Crusaders career was over while undergoing shoulder surgery.
O'Neill had an operation on his troublesome left shoulder in May and the club drafted in former Burnley stopper Brian Jensen as a replacement.
The big Dane is nursing a knee injury, allowing the 29-year-old to make a timely return to the first team. O'Neill is now relieved to be back in the heat of battle after fearing his Crusaders days were numbered.
"I'm quite a headstrong person, so I never sat back and thought my career could be over here," said O'Neill. "I always thought I would come back, but there was that fear that my Crusaders career could be in jeopardy with Brian (Jensen) coming in and doing well, and I would need to come back and prove my fitness.
"I've been with the club seven years now - and I don't see myself moving on - but when you get a bad injury and someone else comes to the club you ask yourself, 'Where do I fit in? Have I got a future at the club?'
"The team has been doing really well and Brian's injury, while very unfortunate and we hope it's not a bad one, opened the door for me. I feel like I'm back to my best and hopefully I can prove that."
Former Ballymena United and Dungannon Swifts stopper O'Neill has been an inspirational figure at the Crues, helping the club secure back to back Premiership titles before the three-in-a-row mission fell just short last season.
His leadership qualities, presence and experience, as well as his shot-stopping skills, have been missed, but now he has the opportunity to get back in the old routine.
He admits that Crusaders' Europa League clashes with Latvian side FK Liepaja were particularly tough to watch.
"One of the worst times was missing out on the European action and not being part of the team," he added. "I travelled with the squad but, as you can't play, you don't really feel part of it.
"I view myself as one of the experienced players in the team and see my role as helping some of the new lads settle in at the club.
"I wanted to make the new lads feel welcome but I had to let off and let others step into that role. Every week you are running before games and doing your own physical work in the training but then stepping aside while the boys play matches. It's tough sitting that out."
O'Neill proved his value to the Crues again at the weekend, pulling off big saves to help secure a 4-3 victory at Glenavon.
"I'm delighted to be back playing again because it's always mentally tough when you're sitting in the stand wanting to be involved," he added.
"I had two pins put in the shoulder and I had to get the operation in May, hopefully there will be no further issues and the timing is good for the team with Brian suffering his own injury setback. Hopefully he gets fit quickly, he's been great for the club and me too.
"I've been doing strength and conditioning work but I knew the recovery period was going to be around five months.
"I injured the shoulder playing against Linfield on New Year's Day in my second season, then in pre-season last year it popped out and ended up doing that about 15 times."