O’Neill to take punt at NFL dream

The son of Cork All-Ireland winner Colm O’Neill is shaping up as a possible NFL punting prospect in Colorado.

Darragh O’Neill, the 20-year-old son of the Midleton full-forward sent off in the 1990 All-Ireland final against Meath, is making waves with his special teams kicking at Colorado University. Though his college team are 1-9 overall, O’Neill’s 66 punts rank third in the Pac-12 Conference and 18th nationally, with an average of 43.8 yards per punt. And he admits his dream is to make it into the NFL, possibly with the Denver Broncos.

“Every day when I go out to practise, I think, ‘What can I do to get to the next level?’” O’Neill said. “That’s definitely what I focus on every single day. Next year, I would like to put myself on the next level to where I’m in the top five or 10 punters in the country. That’s what I’m working for.”

O’Neill was born in Cork and moved to Michigan with his parents when he was three. While his father was a stylist himself, O’Neill says he was taught the art of kicking by his uncle — Kerry great, Maurice Fitzgerald.

“Even just seeing him and how unbelievable he was, just kicking around with him made me better.”

He will celebrate his 21st birthday on December 21, a date he thought he would never see.

While still in High School, he developed Lemierre’s syndrome, a deadly bacteria that attacks faster than cancer. A blood clot in O’Neill’s jugular vein had moved to his lungs, which haemorrhaged and he went into septic shock. Doctors induced a coma, and he said he was under for a week.

“I actually was given Last Rites. I’ve been taught never to take a day for granted,” he said.

Dad Colm (48), who now runs Irish pubs in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Boulder, Colorado, said: “He had played a reasonable amount of Gaelic football and the way you punt the ball in American football is similar. I thought he could give it a good shot.”

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