Many Irish footballers make their living outside of Ireland these days, and 19 year old Shane O’Neill is no different.
His story is though. Unlike many young Irishmen who try to make it across the Irish Sea, Shane has gone an altogether different route – across the Atlantic Ocean.
Born in Midleton, he – and the rest of his immediate family – made the move across the big pond when he was just one year old.
“My dad wanted to study in the University of Michigan, so we moved to America so he could get a degree.”
Like many youngsters in Ireland, Shane played two sports as a child. Unlike the usual combination of GAA and soccer though, Shane preferred the more ‘traditional’ American sport of basketball - but his love for the game of football shone through.
“I played a lot of basketball when I was young, and me and my brother were pretty good, but I preferred football a lot more all the way up. I stopped playing basketball once I left school.”
It wasn’t just his love for the game that shone through either – his talent preceded it. He broke records at Fairview High School, bagging a remarkable 48 goals and 27 assists to set a new all-time high.
The defensive midfielder moved on to the Colorado Rapids youth setup after graduating, and he told me how much he was enjoying his time with the MLS club, and how he is constantly learning, and looking to improve.
“The main thing for me is my speed I guess. I could probably get a bit quicker. Technically I had a really good learning experience. I suppose I just probably need to get a bit sharper and a bit quicker at times.”
He must be learning a whole lot too, as he has just recently been named the 2012 Colorado Rapids Development Player of the Year.
He has also impressed enough at youth level to earn himself a place on the first team’s bench several times this season, and has even made a cameo substitute appearance – unfortunately however, his game time has been cut short due to a nasty eye injury, which he expects to recover fully from by December.
“I broke the bone under my eye. I’ve been out for about four weeks now and I’ll be out for another couple of weeks.
“That was obviously really disappointing given that I probably would have gotten a good run of games now that we’re out of the playoffs, but I’ll have to make sure I heal up fully first.”
Shane has also been capped by the USA at U20 level, and ventured out to Marbella to take part in the Marbella Cup, which hosts youth teams from all over the world.
He is very open to the possibility of playing for the Republic of Ireland however, and confirmed that there has already been dialogue between himself and the FAI coaching staff.
“I spoke to Noel King (Irish U21 manager) before, a couple of times actually. I was close, and maybe if I hadn’t gotten injured I may have gotten a call up.”
“Hopefully if I keep playing well I can get one in the next year or so.”
“I would be extremely interested in playing for the U21’s. I would absolutely love that.”
When quizzed about his long term career goals at club level, there was no real surprise in his answer.
“To play in Europe is definitely the dream.
“Hopefully, I can keep playing internationals. That would help a lot. Playing for the Irish U21’s is great exposure in Europe.
“Hopefully I can make an impact next year with Colorado and see where I can go from there.”
We will be keeping a close eye on this talented youngster’s progress. Perhaps he is a long term answer to Ireland’s midfield woes? Time will tell.
Alan is a freelance sports journalist based in Cork. He joined the ExtraTime team back in the summer of 2012, and covers all things football-related from the Rebel County - whether it be at Turner's Cross or St. Colman's Park. Follow him on Twitter @AlanFeehely
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