Anthony 'Brickey' O'Neill
West Tipperary S.H. Final Program, Cashel, Oct. 7, 2001
One of the stalwarts of the Cappawhite defence in Sunday’s West senior hurling final will be Anthony O’Neill. There are so many O'Neills in Cappawhite that they all need a nickname to distinguish them from one another. Anthony O'Neill is known far and wide as Brickey and is probably more recognisable by it than by his real name. He doesn't know the origin of it or its significance. He recalls having it as far back as primary school. He believes he may have been so christened by one of his brothers.
And there are a lot of brothers. The best known is probably Pa, who was reported is the past couple of weeks to be in a secret hideout getting restorative physio in order to be sprung on the unsuspecting opposition sometime on Sunday. As well, there's Mickey, Danny and Seanie. They never all played together for Cappa but Brickey thinks four of them did.
Whether Pa turns out or not today, Brickey will have other relations on the team. The extended family includes his nephew, Thomas Costello, and his second cousin, Eugene. Brickey and Eugene's father are first cousins.
Although living today in Anacarty, where he is married with three children - a son plays with Eire Og - Brickey was born in Clonganhue, a great place for hurlers. The year was 1960, which makes him a fairly ancient forty-one years at the moment. This age qualified him to play for the county masters team, which has resulted in two All-Irelands, this year and last year.
It's belated recognition for a fine player because Brickey never played for the county until now. A close observer of him and his contribution to the Cappa club told me he was probably the best O'Neill who never made the county. He did get a trial at the under-21 level but didn't make it. Perhaps the county's loss was Cappa's gain as Brickey devoted all his time and energy to his club.
He has achievements to show. The highlight has to be the county senior hurling final in 1987 and the qualification for the Munster final against Midleton at Kilmallock. Defeat was his lot that day as John Fenton drilled a 65 between the posts to snatch a one point victory. He has another county medal in intermediate football, which was won in 1990. His other successes include West senior hurling titles in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 2000. He was on a successful junior 2 side in 1978 after which he played senior, and has been playing it since. He also has under-14 West titles and divisional titles in hurling and football at minor and under-21 levels.
Today we associate Brickey with the corner-back position but he started his senior career at wing-forward. He went from there to wingback, then centreback and finally back to his present position. What is the secret of his success there? He is noted for playing from the front and his motto against more fleet-footed opponents could be summed up in the words of Johnny Ryan Cusack, when questioned how he beat Cork's, Joe Kelly, the 100 yard champion of Ireland, to the ball in the 1945 Munster semi-final at Thurles, said:
'I started in time.' And Brickey does that again and again in spite of his aging limbs.
There must be some secret to his hurling longevity. Not really, he answers. He loves the game of hurling with a great passion. He has played football and soccer but hurling is his first love. If you want to play strongly enough you will get fit enough to play. He puts great emphasis on training and never misses a session. He also looks after himself. He never smoked, takes a few pints but in moderation. He can see himself going forward for another few years. He has been reasonably free from injury and this has been a major help. He has a niggling injury at the moment that's preventing him from giving a hundred percent. If he can overcome that and avoid others, his hurling future is still there.
Brickey has played many fine games. Anyone who was at last year's West final will remember his display as one of the finest he ever gave. He himself looks back through rose-tinted glasses to his contribution to Cappa's victory over Cashel in the 1983 final at Golden. Another display that is remembered with satisfaction was against Patrickswell in the Munster club semi-final in 1987. Playing at centreback, his position at that time, he gave an outstanding display against Gary Kirby.
Brickey can be proud of his achievements and the contribution he has made to his club’s successes. He is a role model not only for his own club mates but for players anywhere. The love of hurling and the success of his club come foremost in his priorities and he gives constant and unswerving expression to these through his dedication to training and preparation for games.