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Tuesday 23 December 2014

United's spirit epitomised by 'injured' striker

Published 19/03/2014 | 05:28

Drogheda United’s two-goal hero Gary O’Neill shields the ball from Roberto Lopes. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Drogheda United’s two-goal hero Gary O’Neill shields the ball from Roberto Lopes. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Marcus Cavaroli

BY all accounts, Gary O'Neill shouldn't have been playing at all on Friday night.

The 32-year-old forward suffered ankle ligament damage during the EA Sports Cup tie against Crumlin earlier in the week, but despite manager Robbie Horgan's wish to take him off O'Neill doggedly stuck it out for the remainder of extra time because Drogheda hadn't any more substitutes to bring on.

Four days later he defied the odds by not only appearing in the starting line-up, but playing the full 90 minutes plus stoppage time and scoring two fine goals to cap a superb individual display in a lone striker role.

Coincidentally, the equalising goal came in the 89th minute, exactly the same time that he scored the equaliser in that cup game - quite a feat for a man who was signed in a dual player coach role for 2014 following his much-publicised battle against testicular cancer.

'I was carrying an injury tonight and probably shouldn't have been playing. I got a bit of a knock on the ankle in the League Cup on Monday, but I'm glad I played now obviously, picking up the two goals. On a personal note, it was great.

'I'm exhaused and elated, not necessarily in that order,' he agreed.

'We're happy to get out with a point. We just didn't start the game, we didn't start the previous week and we didn't start in the League Cup, so we're going to have to try to rectify that.

'But we showed great character and great desire in the second half. We weren't at our best, obviously, but we got the equaliser late on.

'On the bigger scale of things, I'm just happy to be out there and I'm really enjoying it, looking at it a bit different this year. But I didn't enjoy the first 20 minutes obviously - we were getting hopped off.

'It looked like we might lose by three or four, but Robbie came in and had a few choice words with us at half-time. We didn't play great in the second half, but we battled and played second ball and might have just deserved a draw.'

While Drogheda fans will savour the equaliser at their end of the field, O'Neill's first goal - the strange one - was equally important as it came at a time when the Boynesiders were trailing 3-0 and in desperate need of a pick-me-up.

'When Eric [Foley] hit the ball long I thought it was going to run out and I stopped. I didn't realise I had that much space to run into and the keeper went back to his line. I was delighted to score.

'It was a lifeline. It didn't matter whether it was me or anyone else, but it was a good time to score and we could go in at half-time and try and rectify a few things.'

Drogheda performed considerably better in the second half, as it turned out, and while O'Neill got the headlines for his late equaliser against the club where he began his professional career, he was quick to praise his teammates, including the subs who made such an impact.

'They had a good chance at one stage when our keeper Dave Ryan made a great save from a header, but maybe Bohs were happy to see it out in the last 10 minutes.

'We hung in there. We've a decent squad and everyone's itching to play, so fair play to the lads who came on. It's not always easy coming on like that, but they really gave us an extra boost and did really well.'

Now attention turns to Friday's visit of Derry City where Drogheda will be bidding to extend their recent dominance against the Candystripes which saw the Boynesiders win three and draw two of last season's six meetings.

'I'm looking forward to the Derry game now. Nobody holds any fears for us, especially after the result against Dundalk, and we're quite confident when we're at home,' said O'Neill.

'It's going to be hard for anyone coming down to play us, but on a personal note I'm just happy to be playing and looking forward to every game.

'Medically I'm good. I was in the hospital during the week and had another scan and some blood tests. I've to see the specialist again on the 27th of this month, so I'll just keep cracking on.'

Drogheda Independent

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