For that performance the north Tyrone schoolteacher earns our UGAAWA Merit Award for January ahead of Charlie Vernon who led Queen’s University to the final of the McKenna Cup.

“It’s a nice welcome back,” said Stephen when told of his award. “I’m really enjoying being back after my lay-off with the knee injury but the whole Tyrone team played very well against Dublin.”

Winning our Monthly Merit Award is nothing new to Stephen O’Neill. During 2005 he collected the honour three times and now chases Peter Canavan’s record of six awards.

It seems that the Donemana man is never content with one trophy. Among his large array of awards are two each of Ulster SFC, Ulster U21 FC and Ulster MFC medals; Intermediate Championship and league medals plus Junior Championship and League awards with his Aughabrack Club.

Topping it all off are two All-Ireland Celtic Crosses, a NFL medal and two Allstar Awards. Quite a haul for the 28-year-old Red Hand.

Few players, if any, have made such a sudden impact on their return to their favourite sport as Stephen O’Neill has done. His dream comeback during January, after a long, long lay-off was the stuff that fairytales are made of.

Stephen did, of course, return to active service for a few minutes during last year’s All-Ireland final against Kerry but that was only a fleeting appearance. His full return was only during the Gaelic Life Dr McKenna Cup and, more so, in the opening round of the Allianz National Football League.

O’Neill’s display at Croke Park on January 31, as Tyrone defeated Dublin, was reminiscent of many performances he gave in the past. Even better. It is not over-stating the fact that he was close to sensational as he heralded his comeback with eight points and in a manner fitting of the big occasion, fireworks and all.

Stephen O'Neill, getting his award from Chairman of the Ulster GAA Writers Association, Sean McMahon.

© Michael Cullen

Sean McMahon, chairman of the Ulster GAA Writers’ Association presented Stephen with his award of a UGAAWA Sports Voucher, an engraved Belleek China vase, specially designed silver cuff links from Omeath Jeweller Gareth Mallon and training gear from O’Neill’s International Sportswear at a function in Quinn’s Corner on Wednesday, February 11.


Stephen O'Neill, who received the Ulster GAA Writers’ Merit Award  for January.

© Michael Cullen