Belfast Telegraph

Why leading Crusaders out against Wolves was my proudest moment in football: Sean O'Neill

Mixed emotions: Sean O’Neill after conceding the second goal to Wolves
Mixed emotions: Sean O’Neill after conceding the second goal to Wolves

By Steven Beacom

Crusaders goalkeeper Sean O'Neill has revealed that the away dressing room at Molineux last week was an emotional place to be.

O'Neill, captain on the night, was one of many heroes for the Crues as they went down 2-0 to Premier League outfit Wolves in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round tie.

The 31-year-old made a number of fine saves and, although he blamed himself for Ruben Vinagre's injury-time goal, manager Stephen Baxter and his team-mates were quick to point out how impressive O'Neill was against Nuno Espirito Santo's classy side.

They will be looking for more inspiration from O'Neill on Thursday in the return leg at a packed Seaview when emotions will be running high again for what promises to be another memorable occasion, following on from playing in front of a crowd of 30,000 inside an atmospheric Molineux.

"You could feel the atmosphere during the game. There were times when we were trying to give out instructions and we couldn't hear each other," explained O'Neill.

"About five minutes into the game, they got a corner and a few of our boys said to me they felt sick. I think the heat had an effect. It was so warm and everything else combined with nerves and the atmosphere all came together, but once boys got water on board and a first touch things seemed to be okay.

"It was an unbelievable experience and probably my proudest moment in football leading the boys out at Molineux with 30,000 people in the stadium.

"The Wolves fans created a great noise on the night, but from around the 60th minute to 85th you could only hear the Crues supporters because there was a bit of tension in the air with the home crowd as their team were only 1-0 ahead.

"The Crues supporters were brilliant. It's the best I've seen and heard them at a European tie.

"After the game it was an emotional changing room. We have won and lost league titles and finals but, after the game at Molineux, it was the first time I've seen that emotion with almost everyone in the team, including the board when they came in.

"It was a huge thing for us as a club and a great, great night. It's something everyone involved with the club will never forget."

O'Neill was supposed to come home with Ruben Neves' shirt but the Wolves hero went off injured in the first leg and was taken to hospital as a precaution. The arrangement had originally been agreed with O'Neill's close friend and renowned Northern Ireland tattoo artist Willy Grattan, who does the Portugal star's tattoos.

"It was all planned to get his shirt but his own player Willy Boly came straight through him and he went off with something to do with his hip. They brought him straight to hospital," revealed O'Neill.

"Willy (Grattan) messaged him to see if he was alright and he replied that he would get me his top one way or another which was very nice. I was chatting to Ruben before the game and he's a real good guy."

On the Seaview clash, O'Neill stated: "We've kept the second leg alive and you just never know. Seaview is a tight pitch and we'll have a go.

"If you had said we'd lose 2-0 in the first leg, we'd have taken that, but to concede so late on was disappointing. To create a massive shock we would have to score twice, which is going to be difficult, and keep them out at the other end, which will also be very tough, but we're looking forward to the challenge.

"It should be another special night for the club."

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