Senior Club & County Footballer of the Year – Rian O’Neill

It’s impossible to predict just how many column inches will be devoted to Armagh’s new star in the coming years but 2019 certainly displayed just how good Rian O’Neill is, with both Crossmaglen and Armagh fans revelling in his talents. O’Neill spent a lot his time at Saturday’s award night on stage, collecting his Midfield All-Star, his Senior Club Footballer of the Year award and his County Footballer of the Year trophy.

It topped off not only a great year for O’Neill personally but also for his family as his brother Oisin and younger cousin Cian McConville joined him on the Armagh Club All-Star team, filling the centre half forward and corner forward spots. The trio have been tipped for greatness within the Orchard County, with many predicting they will lead the Armagh team for years to come.

“It’s good for the family, me and Oisin from a young age have played in the same teams the whole way up and even out in the back garden we’ve always been competitive with each other, to win one tonight with him is special.”

“Cian came along then and the three of us, even on the pitch, the three of us always be looking for each other on the field and when things aren’t going right the three of us sort of look at each other and say “right lads come on, we’ve more here to give” and that sort of drags us out of a hole at times.”

O’Neill proved he had the bottle to perform at the top level and has never shied away from the big occasion, as he picked up the Man of the Match award in the county final for the second year running. His powerful second half performance dragged Crossmaglen back into contention against Ballymacnab and saw them run out comfortable nine point winners.

At both club and county level O’Neill is pleased with the help his teammates provided and heaped praise on their efforts which allow him to shine, “It’s a team effort the whole way during the year, even with Cross, the boys I was playing with all year dug me out of a hole I don’t know how many times.”

“It’s the same with Armagh, the boys all year have been fantastic to allow me to do what I have to do going forward, they sometimes cover me when I don’t track back or whatever so they help me out. I suppose leading into next year it’s not so much pressure it’s just about maintaining the high standards you set for yourself and I don’t feel that I’ve reached my full potential yet either, I feel there’s still more to come so hopefully next year I’ll see even better.”

With the Crossmaglen man at such a young age it’s exciting for Armagh fans to think of the possible potential they could witness in the coming years. This year he was regarded in the same bracket as Kerry’s young guns David Clifford and Sean O’Shea as he was nominated for the PwC Young Footballer of the Year and O’Neill himself wants to just keep improving game on game.

“You take it game by game and you have to play your best every game and put good performances back to back all year and just keep it going, you never know where it might lead us as a County and Cross as a club as well.”

When Armagh followers reflect on a hugely positive 2019, Rian O’Neill’s exhibition of scoring in their first round victory in Ulster over old rivals Down and the brace of goals he struck against Monaghan in the qualifiers will be near the top of their highlight reel. O’Neill eyes bigger days on the horizon for the men in orange and white and sets his sights high for next season. 

“I suppose we have to be looking at an Ulster title, no one in Armagh is happy to be nearly men and getting clapped on the back for getting beat by a point by Mayo. We feel we should have beaten Mayo and we should have beaten Cavan and for us as a county we should be looking forward to pushing on further and maybe winning an Ulster title and see where we can go from there.”