NAB winner Brandon O’Neill’s inspiring story

Brandon O’Neill’s October nomination for the NAB Young Footballer of the Year Award today is reward for his determination to overcome obstacles and ambition to push himself.

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The likeable 22-year-old Sydney FC midfielder has had a rollercoaster journey to get where he is today, including spending a year in a wheelchair as a youngster as well as turning his back on a potential AFL career.

What’s more, he took a punt a couple of years ago, ripping up his contract at Perth Glory with a year still to go to move across the other side of the country and join the Sky Blues.

For a kid born and raised in WA, it was a big move but one that has paid off big time.

It’s been some for weeks for O’Neill who has been in wonderful form in a Sydney FC side flying high at the top of the Hyundai A-League, while he scored a sublime free-kick in the Sydney Derby.

The midfielder, who also has a Westfield FFA Cup Final to look forward to on November 30, is a worthy first nominee for this year’s NAB Young Footballer of the Year award for October.

Before O’Neill’s football career got started, he endured a tough time as a seven year-old when he was diagnosed with Perthes Disease.

That’s where the ball on the end of the leg bone fails to fit securely into the hip socket. The youngster had to take weight of his legs for almost a year, spending that time in a wheelchair before months of rehabilitation.

But he came through the other side and while he also had the option to play AFL – where he showed huge potential as a junior – O’Neill had his heart set on football.

His parents are both from the UK and his father Miles played professionally in Ireland, so football is in the family’s blood (and hence the accent). 

O’Neill came through the youth ranks at arguably the greatest junior club in Australia, Perth club ECU Joondalup, which has also fostered the likes of Caltex Socceroos Josh Risdon, Adam Taggart, Rhys Williams and Mark Birighitti to mention but a few.

It wasn’t long before Perth Glory came calling, signing O’Neill to the National Youth League team before he made his Hyundai A-League debut at just 17 late in the 2011/12 season.

Brandon O'Neill

But he struggled to break into Glory’s first team over the next few seasons, making just 13 Hyundai A-League appearances for the club during that time.

That’s when O’Neill decided to make the biggest decision of his life to leave Perth and join Graham Arnold at the Sky Blues for the start of the 2015/16 Season.

Arnold, during his time at Central Coast Mariners, had spotted O’Neill in a youth team game and kept an eye on his progress and jumped at the chance to jump-start his career in Sydney.

While it was a big move for then 20-year-old to leave his family for the first time and go out on his own, it’s been a rousing success.

O’Neill made 21 appearances last season and has been an ever-present in the Sky Blues midfield this campaign.

An FFA Cup final start seems a certainty and surely it won’t be long until higher honours come his way.

Sydney FC midfielder Brandon O'Neill celebrates scoring in the Round 1 Sydney Derby.