Derry City’s Irish starlet Ollie O’Neill hails experience of LOI debut as ‘different level’ to English academy football

Derry City winger Ollie O’Neill admits his League of Ireland debut felt like a “different level” compared to academy football in England.

he Ireland U-21 cap joined the Candystripes on loan from Fulham last Thursday and made his first ever senior appearance the next evening, as Ruaidhri Higgins’ side were held to a 1-1 draw at St Patrick’s Athletic after an 89th minute Joe Redmond leveller.

O’Neill racked up a total of 88 appearances for Fulham’s U-21s and U-18s before arriving at the Brandywell, and said the experience of making his first senior start in front of almost 5,000 spectators in Inchicore was one to remember.

“Obviously the Premier League 2 games are technically good and there’s some really good players in there. You add in 5,000 fans, first game of the season, the flares, noise and the speed of the game, all of that stuff puts it on a different level,” said O’Neill, who was a late addition to the starting 11 after Michael Duffy picked up an injury in the warm-up.

“It’s probably better sometimes to just get thrown in and go from there. It was a late switch but it was fine, you just have to roll with it. I’ve loved it and I’ve settled in pretty quick. There’s a great bunch of lads in the dressing room, really good pros, I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of it.”

“Friday was the perfect example,” added the 20-year-old, when asked what he hoped to get out the half-season loan spell.

“It was intense and the first 15 minutes were 100 miles per hour. There’s more physicality which won’t bother me long term. That fast adjustment curve will be good for me.”

The London-raised winger revealed he had offers to go on loan in England but was impressed by Derry’s attacking brand of football.

“Derry was a very attractive project,” added O’Neill.

“They have an attractive style of play and some very good players. It’s definitely something I looked at and said I can see myself playing there, which wouldn’t necessarily be true elsewhere. I know Brian Maher fairly well, and Colm Whelan, so it wasn’t like it was foreign. I had a good idea of what was going on.”

Meanwhile, Shelbourne manager Damien Duff trusts Matty Smith to bounce back from his stunning open goal miss against Drogheda and believes he’ll be a ‘massive’ player for the Reds in 2023.

Duff considered Friday’s scoreless draw as ‘two points dropped’ after Smith missed an open goal from 12 yards, before the post twice denied Shels a breakthrough.

“I’ll never criticise the guys for missing chances as long as we’re creating,” said Duff.

“Matty knows what I think of him. It hasn’t gone in, no problem. He’ll be massive for us this year, I mean that. It wasn’t to be and we’ll move on. It’s a better point for them than it is for us.”


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