Chambers gives up work to help O'Neill fundraising
DROGHEDA UNITED striker Gary O'Neill returned home from hospital late on Tuesday night after undergoing an operation to remove a cancerous tumour.
With chemotherapy likely to be needed to further his recovery and his playing career put on hold a support network has sprung from within the League of Ireland to raise €30,000 – effectively a year's salary – for the 31-year-old.
Led by the players' union, the PFAI, the delivery of hard cash and endless goodwill, has turned this traumatic episode into a footballing version of 'It's a Wonderful Life'.
Firstly, there were three separate €5,000 cheques donated to the striker – one from the FAI, another from Drogheda United, the third from Shamrock Rovers.
Since then, the PFAI received an anonymous donation of €1,000 from a League of Ireland manager and another €1,000 from the Sligo Rovers players who organised a spontaneous whip-round after training on Tuesday.
And the gifts keep on coming. James Chambers, the Shamrock Rovers midfielder, has given up work for six weeks to head the fundraising committee as O'Neill faces into the toughest battle of his life.
"It's like this," said Chambers. "Gary was good to me when I was a young player breaking through at Shels.
"He is a good friend. But more than that, it could be any of us. This is a time to lend a hand.
"Trapattoni said a couple of weeks ago that there was no league in Ireland – a complete insult. The initiatives we're organising on Gary's behalf prove there is a league – a vibrant one."
That much was clear yesterday as 12 players – one from each of the Premier Division clubs – gathered in the Aviva Stadium for a fundraising photo-shoot.
"I have to say that in the seven years I have been at the head of the PFAI, this is the best event I have ever been involved with," said secretary Stephen McGuinness.
"The togetherness is incredible. People want to help Gary, not just because he is a fantastic fella – but also because we recognise how vulnerable we all are, health wise.
"No player in this league earns huge money. We're all conscious of the fact Gary has a mortgage to pay and a family to feed.
"So, when you have guys travelling distances from Sligo, Cork, Limerick and Derry to be in Dublin for a fundraiser, it just shows that when one of their own hits hard times they're all ready to help out and do their bit."
While raising awareness is significant, raising money is also an important part of this project.
A cycling event – Balls on Bikes – has been organised for the day of the FAI Cup final and will take cyclists from Drogheda to the Aviva Stadium.