O'Neill calls time on inter-county career

Tyrone hot shot Stephen O'Neill has stunned the GAA world by announcing his retirement from inter-county football at the age of just 27.

The talented forward has been blighted by a complex knee tendonitis condition over the past year, having struggled previously with both knee and hamstring injuries.

He underwent knee surgery at the end of last season, but complications following the operation left the Strabane man's 2008 season and indeed his playing future in some doubt.

He met specialists last week in Belfast, who informed him that a combination of surgery and a specially designed programme of physiotherapy exercises had not had the desired effect.

The Gortin-based primary school teacher was set to sit out a large chunk of the 2008 season, including the fast-approaching National League, but he has now conceded defeat to the injury.

Admitting that O'Neill's decision to quit was not just injury-related, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte told BBC Sport: "Stephen feels that he has no more to give to the county. Injury does deflate people but I don't think that it was just injury, that was part of his thought-process."

O'Neill, who will continuing playing for his club Clann na nGael when injury-free, first told Harte that he was considering ending his time at the top level in October.

"I was hoping that we would be able to change his mind and that he would come round once he got over his knee problem but his mind is made up," said Harte.

"He has thought this decision through very carefully and we have to respect his decision and be grateful for the tremendous service that he gave the county. We wish him all the best for the future."

O'Neill's footballing skills, sheer strength as a target man and finishing power will be sorely missed by a Tyrone panel that has struggled with injuries in recent seasons.

The possessor of a brilliant left foot, he was a vital cog in the Red Hands sides that claimed All-Ireland success in both 2003 and 2005.

O'Neill emerged as a marksman to be reckoned with during Tyrone's breakthrough season of 2002 when they won the National League.

He won All-Star awards in both 2001 and 2005 and he amassed more than 60 points during Tyrone's second All-Ireland-winning campaign of 2005, a season which ended with him playing for the Ireland International Rules team and being selected as the Footballer of the Year.

Ten years an inter-county player, O'Neill's last appearance for Tyrone came as a late substitute in their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Meath at Croke Park last August.

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