Armagh’s latest eye-catching attacker Rian O’Neill is deservedly receiving a lot of plaudits given his recent performances and so it comes as little surprise when you learn that stardom is in his blood.
The Crossmaglen Rangers man has registered 0-17 so far in this year’s Allianz League campaign and has been a key asset in Armagh’s push for promotion to Division 1 football.
Wearing the Orchard County’s jersey on big match days was somewhat inevitable in O’Neill’s case. His father Gareth is a former Armagh and Louth player and his brother Oisin is also part of the Armagh squad. Add to that the fact that his uncle is former All-Ireland winner and All-Star recipient Oisin McConville and you realise that football was unavoidable for O’Neill in his childhood.
“Every game when we were young, myself and Oisin were around the same age, and my Dad used to play for Cross and we’d be up every night kicking out ball. That went on, he became the manager then, and we were still kicking ball.
“My mother would be going mad that we weren’t in the house doing a bit of homework or something and he’d be dragging us out to training. That’s the way we grew up, we always had a ball in our hands and were kicking about. That’s all we wanted to do.”
Naturally, there was sibling rivalry between O’Neill and his brother Oisin growing up, beginning in the back garden and progressing to the training fields for Crossmaglen. Now that rivalry is used to push each other on in their hunt for success with Armagh.
“I suppose the two of us, yeah, used to beating the heads off each other out in the back every time we got a chance. But that drove us on too, that competitiveness between each other.
“When we’re on the field together we want each other to do the best, but when we’re in training…there was a time with Cross when we weren’t allowed mark each other because there would be a bit of a row going on.
“I suppose we just drive each other one.”
From his family background alone, O’Neill is not short on role models to turn to for inspiration but he has another in the Armagh set-up in the form of manager Kieran McGeeney.
The All-Star winner was part of the 2002 All-Ireland winning team alongside Oisin McConville and so O’Neill grew up watching him in action and needless to say, he is quick to praise the Armagh legend.
“There’s no better fella that you can learn from. His attention to detail and his professionalism, there’s not really many other people in the GAA that would be as professional as he is. And he lives for Armagh football and wanting to see them do well is massive too.
“I was at them games down through the years. My uncle Oisin used to play in those games too so I was at them all. I suppose he was some player in his day and it’s great to be learning from someone like that.”
Promotion could be on the cards for the Orchard County this season as they sit top of the Division 2 table on level points with Roscommon. The two sides face off in a pivotal clash in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday and O’Neill maintains that Armagh must find that level of consistency needed if they are to beat off the competition for the promotion spot.
“Everyone’s beating everyone and no-one is sure how it’ll pan out in the end. I think there’s four or five teams who can equally go up to Division 1. And a lot of teams can go down as well so it’s hard to know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what will happen on any given weekend in it really.
“We’re getting good performances and we’re getting that consistency. There were games when we were starting well and not seeing them out so it’s just about getting that consistency across the board. ”
Rian O’Neill was speaking in Croke Park as McKeever Sports announced it has secured the official GAA licence to manufacture official club and county playing kit and leisurewear. This completes the full complement of GAA, LGFA and Camogie manufacturing licences for the fast-growing Armagh based sports company.