At one stage during the third quarter of Sunday’s warm-up game, Colm O’Neill fell in agony. It was natural to fear the worst. Again.
After three cruciate ruptures, there will always be concern when the 26-year-old goes to ground.
The injury thankfully was a minor one and the Ballyclough man not only managed to continue but augmented his scoring account for the afternoon, scoring four goals and finishing top scorer with 30 points.
The Victorian Football League outfit may have only been minnows but the Australians will have sat up and taken notice of just how dangerous a combination O’Neill, in his first International Rules foray, and Michael Murphy formed in the inside line.
But will he targeted for some rough treatment from the home side on Saturday? O’Neill doubts it.
“Not all. It’s easy to score them when there’s no goalie!” he said in reference to the unusual movements of the VFL netminder. “It’d be more embarrassing if you missed it but obviously there’s competition within the panel.
“I’m sure the Aussies will look at the game but they won’t look into it that much. They’re the best of the best in Australia so it’s going to be good to pit ourselves against them.
“It was a funny game,” he said of the warm-up match. “They went out to the 45 and left no one back but I’m sure it’s going to be a different story (on Saturday). We ran the marks because there were people inside on their own but probably it’s a bit false on how the game is going to be (in Perth). There’ll be a lot of taken marks and you’ll have to punish them and get the three points.”
International Rules, if O’Neill is honest, didn’t concern him too much at the start of the season when he was working his way back from another knee operation.
“It’s probably something I wouldn’t have thought of,” he admitted. “Thankfully enough, the end of the year went relatively well for me and I got the call for trials and it went from there. I’m delighted to be out here. You don’t get this opportunity to often. It’s not like playing with Munster rugby, they get the opportunity to play with Ireland every so often every year. Within the GAA it’s not very often you can represent your country.”
With Aidan Walsh signalling he will concentrate on hurling for the remainder of his career after opting to focus on it for 2015, the likelihood is this will be the last opportunity for he and O’Neill to play alongside one another.
“I was chatting to Aidan. It’s a very tough decision for anyone to make and I said to him, ‘Whatever you go, hurling or football, I’m not going to fall out with you or fault you for that’. Even chatting to Ciarán (Sheehan) there I said, ‘We’d still take you back’. Obviously the two boys are going to be huge losses, it’s put to bed now and at least we know this side of Christmas. You just have to move on and fellas are just going to have to stand up to the plate.”
While Damien Cahalane has opted to follow Walsh’s example, Eoin Cadogan has at least elected to concentrate on football. However, it’s a tough start to 2015 for Brian Cuthbert’s side with four long trips to Ulster in Division 1 — Monaghan on February 8, Donegal on March 1, Tyrone on March 15 followed by a final round game in Derry on April 5.
“It’s going to be a lot of miles,” admitted O’Neill. “They’re the places you’re going to where you’re going to find out about players and test yourself against the best teams up north. They will be tough games but they’re the games you want coming into Championship. I think most of the games are on a Sunday so we’ll probably make a weekend out of it.
“A lot of new guys will come in, we had a lot of home games last year and maybe didn’t bond as well but it’s a great opportunity.
“We’re going to be living in each other’s ear for probably four weeks anyway up north so it’s going to be interesting.”
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