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Dublin: 7°C Friday 7 May 2021

After beating cancer, Gary O'Neill hangs up his boots to spend time with the kids

The 32-year-old striker has decided to pack it in and enjoy family life.

O'Neill in action in last season's Louth derby at United Park.
O'Neill in action in last season's Louth derby at United Park.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

EXACTLY 12 months on from his return to football, Gary O’Neill has called it a day on a distinguished League of Ireland career — which has spanned over 14 years.

In September 2013, the Drogheda United striker was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which prompted Irish football to pull together and show their support to one of the most likeable characters in the league.

Various players and officials wore t-shirts wishing him a speedy recovery, while Joseph Ndo donated his African Cup of Nations medal along with two others and Stuey Byrne ran the Dublin Marathon to help raise funds for his treatment.

On top of that, O’Neill received a visit from Ireland assistant Roy Keane while former Celtic and Everton defender Alan Stubbs, himself a cancer survivor, called to show solidarity.

Thankfully, the Dubliner made a full recovery and marked his Drogs comeback with a top class finish in a pre-season friendly against Glebe North last January. He was signed as a player/coach and went on to make 30 Premier Division appearances for the Louth club — scoring four times.

Now, at 32, he has opted to end his association with the SSE Airtricty League in order to spend more time at home with his two young children.

“The decision is just down to family to be honest,” O’Neill told TheScore today. “I just can’t give football the time and the commitment that it needs anymore.

“For me to play, I had to be 100% committed and invested in it and I just didn’t have the time this year.

“I’ve got two young kids and with work and family life I couldn’t do it. At times I was getting out of bed for work in the morning and the kids would be asleep. Then I would come home from training that night and they would be asleep.

If it (cancer) hadn’t happened to me I would have played on for as long as I could,” he adds. “When something like this happens to you realise the really important things in your life.

“My kids are at an age that I want to spend as much time with them as possible. The little fella is starting to play football so I want to take him training. He was asking me am I going to be around a bit more so that hit home and I know what my priorities are.”

Having joined Bohemians from Tolka Rovers back in 2000, O’Neill went on to enjoy spells with Waterford United, Shelbourne, St Patrick’s Athletic, Sporting Fingal and Shamrock Rovers before arriving at United Park in 2012.

Gary O'Neill and Jimmy Fullam 11/7/2000 O'Neill with Bohemians back in 2000. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

He admits having to work extra hard to regain full fitness last season but adds that he is thankful to have been given the opportunity.

“It was a bonus year,” he says. “I set myself the goal to come back and people were saying you’re mad but it gave me something to strive for.

“It was tough getting back into it because I was miles off the pace but I got through the season and it was a brilliant year to get to see people and have one last crack at it.”

In recent weeks, the Finglas native has been training with his old club Tolka, who have brother Mark on their books, but he will take time out before deciding whether to continue playing with the Leinster Senior League outfit.

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Ben Blake

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