Drogheda United striker Gary O’Neill has been named the SSE Airtricity/Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland Player of the Month for March 2014.
A hugely popular figure in the domestic game, O’Neill has made a return to action following treatment for testicular cancer and was given his award by Jillian Saunders from SSE Airtrcity.
While O’Neill has been around the league for more than a decade, playing for eight different clubs, he had never won this prestigious award before and it took him by surprise.
“It’s a massive honour as I had never won it. It’s always nice to get personal awards as it shows that your performances are being recognized,” said O’Neill, who netted twice in four games in March.
O’Neill becomes the 11th different player from Drogheda to win the monthly award and the first since Ollie Cahill in July 2008. The 32-year-old, though, insists that he is merely benefitting from being part of a good team.
Drogheda’s start to the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division campaign has certainly been impressive, but O’Neill is one the key reasons behind that as his experience has proved to be invaluable to Robbie Horgan’s team.
“I’m accepting the award on behalf of all the players and the staff at Drogheda who have been great. It’s been enjoyable so far, but I suppose that’s because we got some points on the board early on,” said O’Neill.
“We won’t be getting too carried away with ourselves as the season has just started and we are under no illusions how hard it is going to be to pick up points each week. But we’ve started well and want to build on that.”
For O’Neill to even be back on the pitch is an achievement in itself as he was forced to miss the run-in to last season due to his cancer treatment. But the Dubliner insists that he is making the most of his ‘second chance’.
“To a certain degree I’d like to put what happened behind me, mainly because I love the game and want to enjoy it. I’m delighted that Drogheda took me back and gave me that second chance to play again,” said O’Neill.
“I suppose at times you can take it all for granted – that there will always be another game, another season. But once I was out, I feared that it could be gone for good. Now that I’m back, I don’t want to waste a single minute.”
O’Neill was selected ahead of Cork City’s Billy Dennehy and Shamrock Rovers’ Ryan Brennan in the voting for the first SSE Airtricity/SWAI Player of the Month award for the 2014 season.
*Image courtesy of Sportsfile