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O'Neill a huge, lazy talent

HAVING had the nerve to swindle 1-1 from Brian Lohan in the 1997 All-Ireland final at 19, Eugene O'Neill might wonder why a permament place in the Tipperary side remains so elusive writes Dermot Crowe. Today throws up another opportunity to end his lengthy sentence on the team

HAVING had the nerve to swindle 1-1 from Brian Lohan in the 1997 All-Ireland final at 19, Eugene O'Neill might wonder why a permament place in the Tipperary side remains so elusive writes Dermot Crowe. Today throws up another opportunity to end his lengthy sentence on the team's periphery.

If he ignites it may finally dispell his burgeoning reputation as an impact sub - a dubious accolade for any player. Countless observers who drool over O'Neill's repertoire of skills and awareness levels equally bemoan the limitations of his unhurried and chilled-out nature.

This has frustrated Nicky English's best attempts to inject greater urgency into O'Neill's approach to things. "He has an immense talent," says Dinny Cahill, who managed him at minor level. "But I suppose he is a little lazy and gives that impression."

The Cappawhite player ended Antrim's lingering ambitions during the All-Ireland quarter-final two weeks ago when coming on as a late sub and banging in 1-1.

English and his selectors were persuaded to give him another shot, their instincts rewarded in a recent challenge match against Blackrock where he embarked on a scoring spree.

But unlike last year's All-Ireland final when a 2-1 blast in the semi-final replay win over Wexford had him restored to the team, this latest promotion comes with the added bonus of a full-forward place.

"He's a great poacher who works well off a diagonal ball coming across the field, like the one which Lar Corbett gave him for the point against Antrim," says Cahill. "You need to give him the type of ball. He's more suited to full-forward. When he was at corner-forward he tended to be in right beside the full-forward which suits a defence."

Cahill says O'Neill selection demands a change in Tipperary's attacking strategies. "They have a small man at full-forward now so they must play him a different ball."

O'Neill made his senior championship debut at full-forward against Down in the 1997 quarter-finals under Len Gaynor when he scored a goal but was replaced by Aidan Flanagan after 52 minutes.

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English arrived and O'Neill made no appearance against Kerry or in either of the matches against Clare during the '99 championship, and also had to sit on the bench throughout the first round win over Waterford a year later. But he featured in their remaining three matches.

Last year saw him back on the bench for the opening joust with Clare though he came on after 43 minutes, and was again introduced against Limerick in the Munster final and in the two matches with Wexford. In the second of those he scored the two goals which sent Tipperary into the All-Irleand final.

His second final was a disappointment, ending scoreless. Today, significantly, marks his first full-forward championship start since 1998.

"He's got great hurling, anticipation and vision," says Cahill. "But I would often like to get Eugene on to a different gear because he's a gifted player. He's an easy-going fella, I don't think you'll change him at this stage.

"Eugene with the right type of ball is lethal. I would love to see what he would be like if they persisted with him. I would say he has kinda lost interest at times, the fact that he is not getting regular starts. I think his selection on Sunday shows he is being taken more seriously."


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