A player who failed to make the first-team grade at Port Vale but went on to enjoy promotion in Ireland
His time at Port Vale
Gary O’Neill was one of a crop of player brought in by owner Paul Wildes to form the Port Vale Development squad. The team was coached by Jimmy Bell but only Jordan Hugill was to make an impression on the first-team. It was disbanded when Norman Smurthwaite took over as sole owner after he said it was too expensive but arguably the development squad did its job. Even though only Hugill graduated to Football League football, his subsequent transfer earned the club one of its biggest-ever transfer fees.
Despite earning praise for his reserve team performances, O’Neill, formerly of Wolves, was one of those who didn’t make the grade and he was released in the summer of 2014.
His time after Port Vale
O’Neill had a traumatic spell with cash-strapped Hereford United where he failed to receive his wages. He duly returned to Ireland. Shortly afterwards, according to the 42 website, he received a “life changing” call from Pat Devlin, the Director of University College Dublin.
The rest can best be described by O’Neill’s quote in September 2018 – “I’ve no regrets about my time in England. I’m 23-years-old, doing a degree in UCD and am a league champion.” O’Neill became a fulcrum of the UCD football side and was a key figure as the club reached the Irish top flight at the end of the 2017-18 season. He also played in Europa Cup ties and the semi-final of the FAI cup and was nominated as the player of the season. He is currently captaining the side in the League of Ireland Premier Division.