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Move into coaching helped former Cork star 'fill the gap' after early retirement

2010 All-Ireland winner Colm O’Neill is involved with the Rebels U20s this season.

Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

THIS TIME LAST year, Colm O’Neill was preparing for a Munster SFC final with Cork.

He appeared as a substitute in the heavy provincial final defeat to Kerry and suffered a recurrence of a cartilage injury in his knee during that game.

It forced him to miss Cork’s subsequent championship exit against Tyrone and shortly afterwards the 2010 All-Ireland winner announced his retirement from the inter-county game.

His decision to step away came on the advice of medical staff. O’Neill’s body could give no more.

A wonderfully talented forward, his career was blighted by injury, tearing his cruciate on three occasions in 2008, 2011 and 2013. 

O’Neill was watching the Tipperary-Limerick Munster SHC on television at the weekend and instantly recognised Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher’s pain when he went down shortly before half-time.

Tipperary confirmed earlier today that Maher suffered a torn ACL, which has ruled him out for the remainder of Tipp’s 2019 campaign.

“I knew when I was watching it that he was definitely in trouble straight away,” O’Neill says.

“I knew he’d need a scan and was definitely gone but I suppose the one thing you would say is maybe a few years ago it might have been a career ending injury but not anymore.

“I hear loads of stories of people doing cruciate’s and coming back. Look, obviously, I’ve been unfortunate enough to do three of them but every time I came back strong.

“It’s not a career-ending injury, obviously, you are maybe nine or ten months out but if you know if you put in the work and get the operation it’s fixed then. As soon as you get the operation it’s fixed and then it’s just about rehab so there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.”

As he faced into his first season completely out of the inter-county game, O’Neill spotted a missed call from Cork U20 manager Keith Ricken on his phone at the beginning of the year.

“He would have coached us Sigerson in CIT in 2009, I would have known him well and he’s a great coach and we had a good relationship.

“So I rang him back anyway and he asked to meet up for a coffee. He asked would I be interested in coming on board (as a selector). It was a total shock to me first of all, obviously I had no experience in management at all.

“When you’re with the seniors too, you’re so focused, you wouldn’t really know any of the players at that age, but he said don’t worry about it, you’re coming in with a clean pair of eyes. Look I was delighted to get involved and I’m enjoying it so far.”

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.50.21 p.m. Colm O’Neil, at the launch of the EirGrid GAA Football U20 All-Ireland Championship.

The move into a coaching role has helped the 2012 All-Star deal with his early retirement.

“I don’t miss the pre-season anyway,” the 30-year-old says. “I don’t miss the long running anyway but the coaching probably is something to fill the gap. This week now though everyone you meet is asking about (the Munster SFC final on) Saturday night.

“You’d love to be back in that position, looking forward to the game but I’ve had my go and I’ve enjoyed it. I think being involved in this kind of set up has helped that way too.”

O’Neill believes it’s important his former team-mates are competitive with Kerry in Saturday’s senior provincial decider. The Rebels suffered an embarrassing 17-point defeat to the Kingdom 12 months ago, a result O’Neill says will “still be fresh in the memory.”

“Obviously Limerick didn’t perform as well as they’d have liked (in the semi-final) but I was impressed by how clinical Cork were. They got the job done efficiently, there was no messing around.

“It’s hard to know where they are at. I know Kerry weren’t as convincing against Clare. I’m not sure where they’re at either so it’s going to be interesting. A very hard one to call but I would still be close to a few lads and they are looking forward to it.

“Hopefully, we can get a good crowd now, especially with the minors playing before as well it gives an extra bit of a boost.

“I’m sure Ronan (McCarthy) and the lads have done a lot of work and video analysis and maybe try to learn a few things from last year.

“It’s the majority of the same players so I’m sure that last year’s Munster final will still be fresh in the memory so it’ll hopefully be the motivation that they need as well.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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