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Title makes tough times worthwhile, says O'Neill


By Declan Bogue

Despite being on the field for under two minutes, Tyrone forward Ronan O'Neill had the ball in the net to seal the Red Hands' second consecutive Ulster Championship and send Down fans streaming from St Tiernach's Park on Sunday.

And he garnished the game with a cheeky lob over Down goalkeeper Michael Cunningham to provide the crowd with a take-home highlight.

A ball in from Darren McCurry was matched with a clever and spontaneous bit of improvisation as he measured his shot carefully.

The trainee teacher has an impressive record in high-pressure situations.

Playing for Omagh St. Enda's in the county final of 2014, he rounded giant Carrickmore keeper Plunkett 'Oz' McCallan before slotting home, and also provided a goal in Tyrone's National League Division Two final against Cavan last year.

Having the knack of scoring goals requires a little selfishness, as he explained when talking about his first touch after coming on as a replacement for Mark Bradley.

He said: "I saw Mattie Donnelly coming through, and normally I would pull away to create the space, but all I wanted to do was get my hands on the ball and put it in the back of the net, just to prove that I can play on this team and not just be a bit-part player."

Asked about his impudence to attempt a rare lobbed goal in the closing stages, he replied: "The keeper came out a bit too far and I saw he was off his line, and I suppose I have been doing that since I was playing under-age so I was happy enough it came off.

"Other days that goes over the bar so it was nice to see it go under."

A couple of seasons ago, a host of players were cut from the Tyrone squad, including attackers Kyle Coney and Shea McGuigan, with some others leaving after having grown frustrated with the lack of game time.

In and out of the side this year after a back injury halted his progress, O'Neill states that he can understand the source of that annoyance.

"It would be a lie to say that it does not go through your mind, it does, but days like this make it worthwhile.

"To see the supporters and your family out there and to be able to make them proud is a wonderful thing," he beamed.

"It goes through your head sometimes, but playing for Tyrone is a privilege and it has been written in the past as if it was something of a chore.

"It is not a chore, we love playing for Tyrone, we love doing this, we just love going to play football and days like this make it all worthwhile."

Back-to-back Ulster titles leave Tyrone in a strong position, but in every interview, be it with players or management, they all come back to the same thing - how much they feel they let themselves down in defeat to Mayo last August.

"Last year we did not do ourselves justice and I suppose that was at the back of our minds through the league and the Championship so far, so we have that chance," said O'Neill.

"We love Croke Park. It is a fantastic pitch, we love expressing ourselves and we are looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final against whoever that may be.

"We will hopefully go there and give a good account of ourselves after all that happened there last year, and we will try to make the county and our supporters proud."

And they go there with a clear mission. Last year Sean Cavanagh felt they "over-celebrated" their Ulster title.

That won't happen again. There's unfinished business.

Belfast Telegraph


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