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“I knew Rian O’Neill was going to be a special talent since he was 12” | Kernan on Armagh ace

Armagh legend believes Crossmaglen Rangers clubmate could be the difference against Derry in the Ulster SFC final

Legendary manager Joe Kernan has praised Armagh forward Rian O’Neill as being one of the most natural players in the game today, while stating that O’Neill’s uncle Oisín McConville was the greatest player he ever managed.

Speaking to Shane Stapleton and Michael Verney on OurGame, the 2002 All-Ireland SFC-winning manager claimed O’Neill is one of few players that can do everything on offer in the game, while praising the 24-year-old’s dedication and drive from such a young age.

“I knew Rian was going to be a special talent since he was 12 or 13. He had an unbelievable natural ability in the way he glided over the ground. He had great balance. He could catch it and kick it,” Kernan said.

“He and his brothers would be up and down the street kicking the ball and practising every day of the week, seven days a week.

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“When you would go to a game, they would be totally enhanced and glued to the match. He wouldn’t be running up and down the ground messing like most kids do.

“He was totally focused on the game and looking at a good player and wanting to replicate that player when he went home.

“He is just a natural, natural player, I mean Rian has everything. Few players can play centre-back, midfield or any of the six forward positions and Rian can do that.”

However, with the impact of modern GAA styles, Kernan worries that O’Neill’s game is not put to better use, with the Crossmaglen Rangers clubman often being forced back to defend rather causing mayhem inside the opposition’s half.

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“Unfortunately, at times, when you’re that mobile and that versatile, at times you become the sticky plaster, in that if there’s a problem in the backline, he has to fix it and is expected to play everywhere,” Kernan added.

“But overall, I think the likes of him are most feared, just like Michael Murphy, Eoin Liston, and Ronan Clarke . . . inside, 30 metres from the oppositions goal. So, keep them up there where he can do damage.”

Kernan also highlighted admiration for his former players going into inter-county management in recent years with praise for Tony McEntee, Aidan O’Rourke, Kieran McGeeney and O’Neill’s uncle McConville, who he cited as his greatest ever player.

“When I look at the players I had, the ones that made the right decisions on the field are the ones now in management. Tony was my sticking plaster,” Kernan said.

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“He could play anywhere and play well. He came on in the All-Ireland final and touched the ball five times but only got it in his hands once.

“But every ball he poked away from Kerry players . . . they were vital interceptions to us winning. He would be killed if it meant he could win the ball.

“Like Aidan and Kieran, they are all leaders. Then Oisín is just Oisín. He was the best player I ever managed. His longevity was amazing. He would never even miss a challenge match for Crossmaglen or Armagh. He played every week, every day. Now we hear people talk about burn out.

“Oisín’s work rate was unbelievable. Even though he was light, he had an ability to get back and tackle and work hard.

“I think the good players see danger and know what to do and in the modern game I feel we have become too robotic, and we forget what we should be doing to win the game.

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“Yes, game plans are great, but only until they go wrong . . . we are making it too hard for ourselves these days.

“It’s about basics in stopping players, forcing them back, being alert and supporting your teammate and that’s what players like Oisín and the other lads did.”

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