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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

Gary O'Neill warns that 'early detection is key' after comeback from testicular cancer

The Drogheda United star has two league goals to his name already this season.

Gary O'Neill is back in action with Drogheda United.
Gary O'Neill is back in action with Drogheda United.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

DESPITE FIRST NOTICING a lump on his testicles in June 2013, Gary O’Neill didn’t tell anyone until September of last year when he spoke to Drogheda United club doctor Conor Kelly. A few days later he was diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s a day I’ll probably never forget.” O’Neill told 98FM’s Now That’s What I Call Sport this morning.

“Not a nice day when you hear that word said to you, you think it’ll never be you. I was thinking did I get a bang or something.

“I used to mess with the wife about it and all. When I went in to see the doctor and he said he didn’t like the look of it I think all the messing and joking stopped and the reality of it set in.

“I think it’s the same for anyone who hears the ‘C’ word. I honestly thought I was dying, I thought that was it, I thought there was no hope for me.

“When you get sat down by the doctors and the specialists and they explain things to you, it’s a weird thing to say but it if you’re getting cancer, so I keep getting told, this is the one you want. It’s one of the more treatable ones and there’s a high success rate of beating it.”

Despite the live-changing implications of the diagnosis, O’Neill couldn’t help but think about his football career.

“Straight away, I thought that was it, I thought I was done…football was at the back of my mind. First and foremost my thoughts turned to my family and what I was going to do and manage things with them.”

After an operation in late Spetember 2013 to remove the lump, O’Neill returned to football last December, though every four to six weeks he is monitored in hospital because of an abnormal lymph gland in his stomach.

“I started trying to do a bit of training again and the doctor said to me ‘yeah, if you feel up to it, go ahead’. Robbie (Horgan – Drogheda United manager) brought me back into Drogheda, gave me a chance to come and do a pre-season and after the first week of pre-season I thought I might have made a mistake because I was miles away physically from where I’d like to have been but I hung in there and got through pre-season.”

Despite those early hiccups, O’Neill has enjoyed a good start to the SSE Airticity Premier Division, scoring twice against Bohemian’s in Drogheda’s second game of the season.

The 32-year old knows, however, just how lucky he is to be able to play football again.

“Early detection with this is key. John Hartson, he left it for over a year I think I was told. The longer you leave it the more chance you have of it spreading so anyone out there who’s unsure about anything like that, don’t wait, just go and get it checked.”

You can listen to the full interview here.

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Steve O'Rourke

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