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Dublin: 3°C Tuesday 13 April 2021

Tyrone's two-goal hero from their defeat of Derry considered quitting the panel over the winter

Ronan O’Neill is glad he stuck around.

Image: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

IN-FORM TYRONE FORWARD Ronan O’Neill has revealed how he considered his position on the panel last winter after being restricted to a bench role for the majority of the 2015 Championship.

The 23-year old Omagh attacker was a star of Tyrone’s All-Ireland winning minor side in 2010 but is only now showing consistently strong form at senior level.

He hit 2-26 in their successful Allianz League Division 2 campaign and added another 2-2 in last weekend’s big Ulster Championship defeat of Derry.

But it was only last summer that manager Mickey Harte deemed him an impact substitute, with O’Neill starting just one Championship game and coming on in five others as Tyrone reached the All-Ireland semi-finals.

“I had to think long and hard if I wanted to be with Tyrone in 2016 and would I be good enough to be there,” said O’Neill, speaking at AIB’s launch of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

“I made a decision that I’d give it a right good lash in the off-season and then one thing fell after another with the McKenna Cup and in terms of playing a lot of games. A run of games brings confidence and I think confidence is key really.”

Asked if he ever approached Harte with his concerns, O’Neill shook his head: “No, just the family, and a few good friends that I would trust. It depends where he [the manager] sees you and what you can offer him.

“We always have meetings at the end of the year and Mickey was looking for me to push on this year and be a key part of the team, as he does for everyone. I took that on board and last year other lads getting on in front of me was very frustrating and I took it by myself to push on.”

O’Neill was a strong underage player and helped Tyrone to All-Ireland minor success in 2010. Since then he’s made 13 Championship appearances for the seniors but most have been as a substitute.

Aside from low form, he also had a cruciate knee ligament setback in 2012 and players like Connor McAliskey and Darren McCurry went on to nail down the corner-forward positions ahead of him.

“I only came into Tyrone in 2012 and I did my cruciate and it took a long, hard journey to get back,” said O’Neill. “The game probably evolved around then also and Donegal were putting in serious effort into the game and their preparations. It probably took me two or three years to grasp that, the professionalism of GAA at the moment.”

If a nagging suspicion existed after last year’s defeat to Kerry that Tyrone lacked a vital spark in attack to get them over the line against the very top teams, O’Neill’s rise to prominence couldn’t have come at a better time. He capped a decent league campaign with 1-3 against Cavan at Croke Park before that 2-2 haul in Derry.

“Listen, all I’ve done is have a good league campaign and the Derry game obviously went well for us all but there’s a lot more to come and an awful lot more to do,” said O’Neill.

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