OMAGH’S Dean O’Neill is hoping to make history by clinching the Connacht Championship for London this Sunday.
The flying half-back has struggled with groin and knee injuries for most of the campaign, but having come on in the semi-final victory over Leitrim, Dean hopes to contribute to what would be an stunning victory over Mayo in Castlebar.
The former Omagh St Enda’s captain made the move to England last January having secured a job working in the events team for the London Olympics.
Having then secured a project management job with a law firm in the city, his displays for Fulham Irish GAA team grabbed the eye of the London Selectors and they added him to the panel in February for this season’s National League campaign.
This is not the first time Dean has worn county colours having previously represented Tyrone at minor and U21 level, while a few seasons ago he put in a couple star performances for Antrim in the National League.
This however, is his first taste of Senior Championship action and he is relishing the opportunity.
“Getting the first championship win in over 30 years in the first round against Sligo gave everyone a huge boost and instilled the confidence in the team that they could go out and win games. The never say die attitude has just got stronger throughout the campaign,” said Dean.
With so many Irish natives relocating to London in search of employment in recent years, Dean said there is a high standard and competition for places in the club scene, which has contributed to London’s Championship run.
He stressed that there was the same level of professionalism and dedication in the London set-up that he experienced with both Tyrone and Antrim.
In fact the players have to be extra committed to travel at times well over an hour on the tube to get to training as often as five times a week.
“I joined Fulham Irish, who were the London championship winners last year, but with my work getting ready for the Olympics I didn’t get to play a great amount.
“This year I had a bit more time so was able to get a few more games with Fulham and got added to the London panel in February time. There is huge competition within clubs with players coming from throughout Ireland. There is a great mix and every year there is a big turnover of players with new people arriving all the time, which brings its own challenges but its really good.
“It is as professional as it is back home and taken just as seriously. The team have been training for this since last November four or five times a week before I even joined them. They put as much effort in as any other county team and that commitment is starting to show with the performances and results.”
With a professionalism also in the management set-up, Dean said the attitude amongst everyone is that they are there to compete, not simply to make up the numbers.
“In the past London may have struggled. It has hard at times travelling for an hour and a half straight after work to get to training. It is a huge commitment and over here it is not as easy to get time off work or out early for a big game as they don’t understand it.
“But the results show the guys have committed and put the hard work in. The management under Paul Coggins has said from the start he believes this team has the strength to win matches and the players have got fully behind his regime.
“I have been out for three months with injury but getting on in the semi-final win over Leitrim was a great experience, especially with the result. Everyone is going strong and we have been training hard getting ready for the final.”
Galvanised by the lack of expectations, Dean said London will go out on Sunday and give their absolute all to once again upset the apple cart and continue proving the ‘experts’ wrong.