GAA Football

Tyrone forward Ronan O'Neill set for Red Hands return

Ronan O'Neill leaves Mayo's Brendan Harrison in his wake. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Andy Watters

RONAN O'Neill will return to the Tyrone panel for next season's Division One and Championship campaigns.

The Irish News understands that the skilful Omagh St Enda's forward will re-join Mickey Harte's squad after opting out in March last year due to dwindling opportunities for game-time in the National League.

The talented attacker – an All-Ireland minor winner with the Red Hands in 2010 – was struggling to even get into the squad for Division One games and so he decided that the time had come to take a break.

However, after taking time out to reflect and work on his game, it is understood that the play-making frontman is determined to give the inter-county scene another go.

“Towards the middle of the League I wasn't getting a look-in and I thought to myself: ‘Should I maybe step away from this?'” he explained after making his decision to quit the Red Hand panel.

“Ultimately it was an extremely hard decision to make because Tyrone has been the best part of my life for eight years. I sat down and chatted to my father and he said to see how the League went and to keep pushing at training.

“But I wasn't getting into the match day squads and people were asking why I wasn't and I just thought ‘You know, maybe it's time to take a step back here' so I saw out the League and met Mickey on Sunday night and explained my decision.”

O'Neill was adamant that his decision in March was only temporary and vowed then to make a return to the Tyrone fold in time for the 2020 season.

“He (Harte) said that I wouldn't be the first person to step away and then come back again the following year,” O'Neill added.

“He gave me some things to work on and I'll use this club season to do so and reassess where I am for next year.”

O'Neill, who has won two county championship titles with club Omagh, will be well aware that competition for places will be predictably fierce as Tyrone gear-up for a Division One campaign which begins with a home game against newly-promoted Meath at Healy Park.

News of O'Neill's return comes just a week after Connor McAlliskey confirmed that he will not be involved in the Tyrone set-up next season. The Clonoe forward had been a pivotal member of the side that reached the 2018 All-Ireland final but he fell out of favour with the selectors last year and had to be content with substitute appearances throughout the Red Hands' run to this year's semi-finals.

Killyclogher frontman Mark Bradley is also back on the scene after missing out last year but with versatile Trillick clubman Mattie Donnelly has been sidelined for the next six months manager Harte has drafted in six new faces ahead of the 2020 season which starts with Tyrone's defence of their Dr McKenna Cup in the pre-season competition beginning on Sunday, December 29.

Conal Grimes, Niall Kelly, Daniel Kerr, Conor Quinn, Michael O'Neill and Conn Kilpatrick are the players to come in. Quinn and Grimes were selected among the top 20 players in last year's championship. Full-back Quinn and attacking wing half-back Grimes were central to Tyrone's triumph in Ulster championship.

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