"I had no power then, even lifting my leg into the bed was a struggle" - O'Neill's sensational return in 2008
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It came as a huge shock to the Gaelic football landscape in January 2008 when, at the age of 27, Stephen O'Neill retired from inter-county football.
The Clann na nGael legend had had enough. His knees had worn and torn to the extent that, by that stage, getting into bed was a struggle, not to mind driving a car.
Playing Gaelic football seemed a long way away and that was why he called it.
The false dawns and the failed remedies were the issue. Between O'Neill and the Tyrone physio Louis O'Connor, they tried ice-baths, blood injections, they tried everything through '06 and '07, but nothing did the trick and he was still battling through the pain barrier.
That was why he stepped away. He tried to play on with the club but the knees wouldn't agree. Something had to give.
"I had tendinitis in my knee and nothing I was doing was improving it. I was getting no joy with it, the pain was serious and it was shutting down the muscles on my quad," O'Neill says in an interview on this week's GAA Hour.
"I had no power then, even lifting my leg into the bed was a struggle.
"Simple movements like driving was an issue. I felt I was doing myself and the team no good so I got a bit fed up with the injury so I'd retired then in 2008, and told Mickey that I'd had enough and couldn't go on."
What a job having this legend in studio today 👑
Stephen O’Neill joins us to discuss:
- Tyrone vs Kerry preview
- Why he HATES the mark but LOVES the modern game
- His famous return in 2008
- Goal-finishing advice
Tune in below ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/rhBrfi2Ujo
— GAA JOE (@GAA__JOE) June 26, 2023
Until one day, bingo.
So as to keep fit as much as anything else, O'Neill started cycling and he soon found that his quad was getting stronger, and his knee was improving.
"I couldn't get moving so just started cycling. And then just through cycling, it helped me strengthen up the leg and got me back playing again eventually.
"I kept at the cycling then even after '08, right through to when I retired again in 2014 because it just helped keep up the strength in my leg, and the knee and the muscles around it."
"Whenever the knee got back, after three or four months of the cycling, I got back playing with the club, started playing well, and there were a few people that came down to club training to try and entice me back in with Tyrone."
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Sensationally, O'Neill returned to the Tyrone fold just a couple of weeks before the All-Ireland final vs Kerry - with the backing of his team-mates - and he came on at half-time as Tyrone took home Sam once again.
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