It may be deemed somewhat early in the year to be amassing kudos but then Armagh’s explosive forward Rian O’Neill is a young man in a hurry.
Man of the match in his team’s stunning victory over Dublin last weekend, 22-year old O’Neill was subsequently included in the GAA’s Team of the Week.
Yet personal accolades, while greatly appreciated by the modest and assuming apprentice electrician, take second place to what he views as the perceived Armagh renaissance as a football force.
There may have been barely discernible hints during the Dr McKenna Cup that Armagh might not look out of place in Division One of the Allianz League but those hints dramatically morphed into a richly embossed calling card when the team compiled a scarcely credible 2-8 to 0-5 half-time lead last Saturday night before going on to triumph by 2-15 to 1-13.
If the result evoked ecstasy within the orchard county, it also triggered immediate speculation that an Athletic Grounds attendance record of sorts could be established when Tyrone are the visitors on Sunday.
And straight away this is where O’Neill’s strident views are being interpreted as a further rallying call to a team gradually reacquainting itself with the spotlight.
“It’s all about the team no matter what anyone says,” declares O’Neill, “Sure we got a few scores against Dublin but look at how well our defence performed. They did not give away simple frees, they kept their discipline, they pushed up at every opportunity and everyone else chipped in to help to keep Dublin’s key men quiet.
“We also had a great platform for attack from midfield with players turning in massive performances because Croke Park is a very punishing arena where you are tested to the full. You would have to say that it was a terrific team effort with everyone including our very capable substitutes making a significant contribution.
“To be honest, you would have to say that maybe over recent years we were a team that flattered to deceive but that’s no use in the long run. You have to be producing the results and while it was a nice win over Dublin we know that Tyrone will be extremely difficult opponents this Sunday no matter what way you look at it.”
With Tyrone having been held to a draw by Monaghan last Sunday, O’Neill believes they will bring added intensity to their table in an effort to get their first win in the league.
“There is a great rivalry between Armagh and Tyrone and it will certainly be a passionate game on Sunday,” reflects O’Neill, “But I think our team spirit will stand to us. Maybe in the recent past we might have lost games that we should have won but I think we showed against Dublin that we have learned to close out a game.”
“That is hugely important nowadays when you see how close games are. There were three draws out of four games in Division One last week-end and that speaks volumes for the competitive nature of the league.”
“Tyrone are the All-Ireland champions, they are a proud football county but we like to think that we have recaptured a measure of our own pride.”
With players such as Ciaran Mackin, Jarly Og Burns, Jason Duffy and Aaron McKay now linking seamlessly with the more experienced cohort of Rory Grugan, Stefan Campbell, Aidan Nugent, Aidan Forker and Niall Grimley, manager Kieran McGeeney is hoping that the cohesion and support play that brought Dublin to their knees can be repeated against the Red Hands.
“You can only go game on game but the boys know that this is a big assignment against Tyrone. While it was great to get the win over Dublin, we know that the league can be very demanding given that we have to play seven games within a nine-week period. You can take nothing for granted and we will certainly have to be on our toes because Tyrone will definitely come to the Athletic Grounds hoping to pick up the two points,” states McGeeney, “I would hope that it turns out to be a good spectacle from the point of view of spectators from both counties who have waited patiently for a return to action.”
Tyrone management duo Fergal Logan and Brian Dooher are keeping their cards close to their chest at the moment as they prepare for what is a vital contest.
They will be seeking more fire-power up front and will bid to dominate the midfield exchanges while at the same time exercising greater vigilance defensively given that Monaghan missed several goal-scoring chances last Sunday.