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Page last updated at 08:05 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 09:05 UK

O'Neill returns to Tyrone panel

Tyrone player Stephen O'Neill
Stephen O'Neill won All-Ireland medals in 2003 and 2005

Stephen O'Neill has returned to the Tyrone senior football panel ahead of the All-Ireland final against Kerry at Croke Park on Sunday 21 September.

The 27-year-old quit the intercounty scene in January after two frustrating seasons of injuries, amid speculation of a row with manager Mickey Harte.

Tyrone players held a meeting on Wednesday night and voted to accept O'Neill back into the Red Hands squad.

The forward is set to return to county training on Thursday night.

O'Neill, who has been in good form for his club Clann na nGael, is a double All-Star winner and double All-Ireland medal winner.

His return adds further spice to the All-Ireland decider, a repeat of the 2005 final in which Tyrone beat Kerry.

The impressive displays of the Tyrone forwards in the county's recent wins over Dublin and Wexford suggest that O'Neill is unlikely to win a starting role against Kerry.

However, he will strengthen the Red Hand bench and represents a great impact substitute option for Mickey Harte.

The Tyrone manager said that door would always remain open to O'Neill but the forward's return to the squad little more than a fortnight before the All-Ireland decider is a major surprise.

Harte told BBC Sport that the squad had "unanimously" backed O'Neill's return to the Tyrone squad.

"There certainly was (unanimity). They had time to discuss it," said Harte.


"Obviously, it's a sensitive time to be making his reappearance but the players said that the quality of the man meant that there was no doubt that he should be back."

In terms of whether the former All-Star could earn a starting role against the Kingdom, Harte said:"Stephen O'Neill will challenge for a place like everyone else.

"We'll see where his levels of fitness are at and how ready he is for this standard of football.

"If that shows up well, then he's in with a fighting chance like everyone else."

Harte added that O'Neill's comeback will extend beyond the All-Ireland decider.

"In the years to come, we're going to see Stephen O'Neill in action and that's wonderful for Tyrone football."

see also
O'Neill retirement stuns Tyrone
24 Jan 08 |  Gaelic Games

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