Tyrone legend Stephen O’Neill last night confirmed his retirement from inter-county football. Martin Penrose has also brought the curtain down on his career with the Red Hands.
O’Neill, one of the greatest attackers of the modern era, won three All-Ireland medals during Tyrone’s golden era of the noughties, while Penrose shared in two of those triumphs, in 2005 and ’08.
During a 15-year career, O’Neill (33) was selected on three All-Star teams, in 2001, ’05 and ’09, and was named Footballer of the Year in 2005.
It was in ’05 the Clan na nGael clubman reached the peak of his powers, turning in a succession of dazzling displays, and forming a potent attacking partnership with Peter Canavan.
O’Neill finished as the championship’s top scorer during that triumphant season, hitting 5-49, 29 points more than his nearest rival, Derry’s Paddy Bradley, as Tyrone clinched a second All-Ireland title in three years with victory over Kerry in the decider.
History will record that Stephen O’Neill won three All-Ireland medals, but the modest schoolteacher will claim ownership of just two.
Having announced his retirement in 2008 following an injury-plagued spell, he was persuaded to return later that season, and made a telling appearance as a substitute in the All-Ireland final, helping to set up Tommy McGuigan’s crucial goal as the Ulster men triumphed over the Kingdom once again.
But he refused to accept his medal, saying he “did not earn it”.
However, within months, O’Neill was back to his brilliant best and his return to top form was confirmed by the conferring of a third All-Star accolade in 2009.
O’Neill was appointed Tyrone captain by Mickey Harte in 2012, and led the team for two years, before Sean Cavanagh assumed the role last season.
News of the departure of Martin Penrose will also be greeted with dismay by Tyrone fans, who warmed to his whole-hearted displays over the past decade.
Penrose was renowned not only for his creativity and accuracy as an attacker, but for a selfless work-rate that saw him execute tackles and force turnovers all over the field.
But he was no longer a first choice player this season, starting just one championship game, against Monaghan, and making substitute appearance in the other four.
O’Neill and Penrose are both expected to continue to play for their clubs – O’Neill with Clan Na nGael and Penrose with Carrickmore, for whom he played in the last two county finals, having transferred from his native Aghyaran.
Speculation continues over the futures of other experienced players in the Tyrone squad, including defenders Conor Gormley and Dermot Carlin.
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