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Thursday 28 August 2014

Maurice Fitz's rising star nephew

PUNTER IS TIPPED TO MAKE THE TOP IN NFL

BRENDAN MCCARTHY

Published 02/01/2013 | 09:48

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LET'S get the clichés out of the way to begin with.

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"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" and "he didn't lick it off the stones". There, all done. Wait, there's one more and perhaps this one is most apt when talking about Darragh O'Neill – "Briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait". The skill is there by nature.

Who is Darragh O'Neill you may ask?

Darragh O'Neill is one of American football's brightest young talents and is hotly tipped to make it at the very highest level in gridiron.

It's the blood that courses through his veins that makes the Colorado University player interesting from a Kerry – and it must be conceded – a Cork point of view.

Darragh is the nephew of one of Kerry's greatest ever footballers, the legendary Maurice Fitzgerald. His father is two-time All-Ireland medallist with Cork, Colm O'Neill, who is married to Maurice's sister, Christine.

Say what you like, but the Colorado University student was always going to be a ball player, whatever the code.

Us Kerry folk all remember Colm O'Neill. Anyone that was in Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Munster SFC Final in 1990 certainly will anyway. That day Colm O'Neill scored 1-10 in Cork's 2-23 to 1-11 walloping of the Kerry, while uncle Maurice scored 1-5.

"My mom's mother wasn't too happy with that,' remarked Darragh,

' because obviously Maurice was playing for Kerry at the time."

The 21- year- old's punter's progress has been little short of meteoric. And with Fitzgerald and O'Neill blood in his veins who honestly is surprised, this side of the Atlantic at least?

From never having played the game seriously, O'Neill has gone from never having played the game to being a possible NFL starter. The stuff of dreams indeed.

But despite his mixed heritage, his loyalties very definitely lie with the county in which he was born and lived until the family moved Stateside in the mid-1990s. His grá for Kerry was retired when his famous uncle hung up his boots, he admitted.

"When we came back for the summer, which we used to do every year up until three years ago, we would always go to Maurice's games. Even after Maurice retired, we would always find our way to some matches," he said. "My dad and myself went to Killarney a few years ago, for a semi-final I think, where Cork lost. To be honest, I used to like the Kerry team when Maurice played but when he was gone, that was it."

Talented and honest! Darragh, standing six foot two inches tall, always played ball, but basketball and soccer were his games.

"In high school, all I did was play basketball and soccer. I went to a few of the American football games and it was just massive. The crowds were 50,000 plus. When I saw that, I thought that it was something that I would definitely be able to do. It was hard at first but I felt like I have caught on fast."

His rapid progress through the ranks, from novice to starting punter is impressive, but it is the result of a lot of hours of hard work, aided by father Colm, who runs family business Conor O'Neill's bar in Boulder.

To think that, in the not too distant future, Cork could have its very own NFL star causes plenty of flutters in one corner of East Cork, his homeland of Midleton where there is an ever-growing interest in the famed American sport.

There's his uncle John O'Neill, his grandmother Ann O'Neill, Vincent, Niall and Tom O'Neill, Michelle Cronin, and many more, the list goes on.

It's also worth noting that Darragh's brother, Shane (19), plays professional soccer with the Colorado Rapids.

Darragh (the oldest) has four more brothers and sisters, Enda, Kate, Grace and Mark.

Talent eh? It's definitely in the genes.

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