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Ronan O'Neill finally living up to his billing as the new Canavan

By Declan Bogue

It's been a while coming, but this year it can be said that Tyrone attacker Ronan O'Neill is delivering on his undoubted talents at county level.

Although still only 22, his name has been up in lights ever since a series of displays for his club Omagh St Enda's in the St Paul's Ulster minor Championship led an onlooking Joe Brolly to draw comparisons in print to no less a name than Peter Canavan.

The manner in how he netted his goal in Sunday's 1-17 to 0-15 Division Two final win against Cavan shows certain similarities. The game may have changed beyond recognition and even the likes of Canavan would have to adapt his game, but a clinical nature never goes out of fashion.

"Mattie (Donnelly) played a great ball, it was straight in front of the net," was O'Neill's matter-of-fact description of his finish.

"I'm up there to put the ball in the back of the net. Sometimes they don't go in but thankfully this one did."

His predatory instincts were matched by Connor McAliskey in the other corner, who showcased his ability to receive the ball and boom over on the turn without resorting to taking a hop or a solo. The performances of their two inside forwards lends comparisons to Canavan and Stephen O'Neill, but also provides a rebuke to those that say Tyrone do not have the firepower to take on the very top teams.

"We don't take much of that on board," said O'Neill.

"We know within our squad that we are seriously competitive and any of the forwards who go out, you have to put a marker down because the boys coming off the bench will make a difference."

One only has to look at the talent on the sideline to agree with the truth of that statement. Darren McCurry is out with a minor knock while Lee Brennan, who scored 3-8 in a league game last week for his club Trillick, made a cameo appearance in Croke Park.

The understanding of each others' game and the runs they make are only a natural extension of what they do on the training field in Garvaghey, according to O'Neill.

"We're happy enough we got scores and we have been getting scores of late so as long as we can continue to improve we'll be happy enough," he said.

"We're on the training pitch together three or four times a week so some sort of understanding has to come. We are happy enough it worked out."

Such is the fate of talented teenagers that their body shape comes under scrutiny, but it has been noticeable that the student teacher has leaned up at the same time that Mickey Harte has trusted him more than ever this season.

Last year when Tyrone played Donegal in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship, he was a late sub for McAliskey. By the time they reached the All-Ireland semi-final loss to Kerry, he only got the last five minutes as a replacement for McCurry.

Now, he is a trusted starter and has proven himself a reliable place-kicker throughout the National League, something that Tyrone have struggled with identifying since Canavan was in his prime.

Seven long seasons had passed since Tyrone lifted their last silverware in Croke Park, and O'Neill readily admits that even a small taste of it with the Division Two trophy was necessary for the current squad.

"It is massively important for this group of players. We've always come so close to trophies but we really needed to get a national silverware on board this year," he explained.

"Obviously it's a Division Two title but we're still happy enough to get a national title and it will give us confidence going into the Championship. We have that unbeaten record in Division Two and hopefully we can bring that into the Championship."

Belfast Telegraph


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