Sean O’Neill (Down)

When Lár na Páirce was being developed as a museum of gaelic games in the early 1990s, the committee decided to include life-size models of great hurlers and footballers. There wasn’t much difficulty in deciding on the best hurlers. Christy Ring of Cork and Mick Mackey of Limerick appeared to stand out as the greatest in the history of the game. Neither was there any difficulty in picking Mick O’Connell of Kerry as the stand-out footballer. However, there was a difficulty in choosing a second: there were many contenders. Eventually, it was decided to pick Sean O’Neill of Down and he was a good choice.
The lean and lanky forward best exemplified the excitement and romance associated with
the Down team in their breakthrough to Ulster and All-Ireland honours in the late 1950s and the 1960s.
Sean O’Neill’s achievements in a senior football career with Down that stretched from 1959 to 1975 are hugely impressive. They include eight Ulster senior football championship medals in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1971, as well as three All-Irelands in 1960, 1961 and 1968. He is one of only four Down players to have won All-Ireland medals on the three occasions, the others being Joe Lennon, Dan McCartan and Paddy Doherty.
Other honours include three National Football League medals in 1960, 1962 and 1968, and eight Railway Cup medals with Ulster in 1960, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1971. If one includes the unofficial Cuchulainn Awards, which preceded the All-Star Awards, he won six in all, four Cuchulainn in 1963, 1964, 1965 and 1967, and two All-Star in 1971 and 1972.
A native of Newry and a member of the John Mitchel’s Club in the town, with whom he won county Down senior football titles in 1960, 1964, 1967 and 1968, Sean O’Neill is also the holder of two Sigerson Cup medals with Queen’s University in 1958 and 1964. In the course of his playing career, he scored 17 goals and 125 points for Down.
His greatness as a footballer was recognised in 1968 when he won the Texaco Footballer of the Year Award. In her history of Down’s G.A.A. Story, Síghle Níc An Ultaigh, referring to this honour, said: ‘No doubt the script writer for the citation may have had some difficulty in deciding what to omit, so much could be said in praise of the football genius from the Frontier Town.’

Sean O' Neill-Down

Sean O’ Neill-Down