By Niall Gartland
TYRONE footballer Michael O’Neill hopes that he has put his injury woes behind him as he looks forward to his fifth season in the red and white at senior level.
The Ardboe man played a full role in Tyrone’s surge to All-Ireland honours in 2021, but a lingering groin problem meant he played a bit-part role in 2022 before re-establishing himself during last year’s championship.
It was a torrid enough time all things considered, especially as it affected his working life as a plasterer, so he has his fingers crossed that he’ll be fully fit for the foreseeable.
O’Neill said: “After the All-Ireland I’d a really bad run of injuries. I’d a lot of pain around the pelvis and it kept swelling up.
“It caused me a lot of bother with my job. With the nature of the injury I had to rest but being a plasterer is quite a physical job so it became a bit of a dark hole for me.
“I finally got the better of it and got a good run of games and I probably didn’t realise at the time how much I’d miss it.
“It’s very hard to replace game-time. Everyone loves training but players really want that competitive game-time and when I played my first match in six or seven months you realise the consequences of being out for so long.”
O’Neill wasn’t marked out for intercounty success at an early age and was even cut from the Tyrone minor panel mid-way through the season. But a two-year stint with the Tyrone u-21s gave him a real taste of life on an intercounty set-up and he was determined to make it as a senior footballer.
“I was on the Tyrone minor league panel and was cut. I served two years on the u-21s, that was under Feargal (Logan) and Brian (Dooher).
“Then I’d a couple of years with the club before getting the call up by Mickey Harte when I was 23 or 24.
“When I was with the u-21s, I got a real grasp of the county set-up and really liked it and then went back to the club.
“Those two years of playing club football was a great learning curve, there’s a significant jump from underage football at intercounty level to senior club football, especially in a county like Tyrone.”
Reflecting back on the 2023 season, Tyrone were tipping along nicely until their campaign came to a shuddering halt against Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-finals. Jack O’Connor’s side had a fortnight to prepare – by contrast Tyrone had a single week – but O’Neill doesn’t attribute their defeat to a single contributing factor.
“We were confident going into that game in terms of our training and preparations. Sometimes you’re not at the races and from an individual perspective and the perspective of the team, we just didn’t seem to turn up.
“That’s for us to reflect on and ask ourselves how do we rectify it. The quick turnaround didn’t help but I wouldn’t put it down to the one-week lead-up as I still think we prepared very well.
“Some times you’re not at the races and that was unfortunately one of those days.”