“Do today what other people aren’t willing, so tomorrow you can do what other people can’t do.” This is the ethos by which Brandon O Neill lives his life by, no matter what he chooses to do. There is more than meets the eye with O Neill, and his story is one of perseverance, determination and an overall positivity that is contagious.
Aa professional footballer, O Neill recently signed back with his hometown club, Perth Glory. He is a central midfielder by trade, and played a key role in the successful squad that was built by Graham Arnold at Sydney FC. Although he has had many wins on the field, his journey to professional soccer hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
O Neill, 27, had a different pathway to football, even from a young age. During his childhood, he was had Perthes Disease, a rare genetic disease that deteriorates the bones through a lack of supply of blood going through to the thigh that inevitably limits the range of movement in your hip. This injury hindered him for 12 months, but even when his injury hampered him, he still found a way to keep involved with soccer. “ I remember going and watching my cousins play for Heathridge with my Dad and I just remember saying to him, ”I would love to play one day’,” he says. Once he was able to get out on the field, O Neill was always a step ahead. “ My Dad and my coaches said that I always “ had the talent” and “always looked a step ahead”.” Even today, his love for the game and the ability to stay one step ahead of the opposition hasn’t slowed down.
The 27-year-old is a 2-time A League champion with A League powerhouse Sydney FC; he was a member of the PFA Team of the Season in the A League, He has played with big overseas clubs and even made his debut for the Socceroos. All of these achievements are the result of years of dedication, commitment and his rare ability to find inner strength in the face of adversity.
Wife Nicole speaks glowingly about her husband “He is the most selfless person I have ever known. The care he shows towards family is something that always sticks out to me,” she says. This trait is none more evident than when we are talking about Brandon’s Dad, Miles.
O Neill says Miles is the person who has had the biggest impact on his professional career. He was a major supporter in helping Brandon chase his professional soccer dream. “He was my best mate,” O Neill says. “We had this bond that was so hard to describe and he always wanted me to chase my dreams and be the best I can be.” Sadly, Miles was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer during O Neill’s time in Korea with the Pohang Steelers and passed away earlier on this year. This was a very tough time for O Neill and his family, made tougher by the fact that his family was still in Perth while O Neill and his wife were living abroad. “I’m not going to lie to you Josh, it was very tough to see him go through that and not being able to help him was hard,” O Neill says.
O Neill grew up playing his junior football at ECU Joondalup and made his way through the ranks in the Perth Glory youth squad. He made his debut in the senior team at age 17 but then really struggled to cement a regular position in the side. In four seasons, O Neill made 17 appearances for the Glory. He was on the fringes of the squad and he knew that something needed to change. “I was 20-21 and I was eager to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I remember playing this youth game against Sydney where Steve Corica was coaching and he was assistant to Graham Arnold. Graham Arnold approached me after and said that he always saw something special in me. That’s when we had that conversation and he offered me the opportunity. Arnie said to me that nothing was guaranteed and I wasn’t necessarily going to come in and start games straight away so I knew I had to work hard.”
The Sydney signing came at the start of the 2015-2016 season and as they say, the rest is history. O Neill became a regular starter in central midfield from the opening round of the new season after having a “cracker of a pre season”. O Neill made 28 appearances in all competitions in his first season and although there wasn’t much team success early on, the model for a winning football club was put in place. After that first season, then the results came, and that was all down to the environment that was created by head coach Graham Arnold and then captain Alex Brosque.
“The club felt like a family,” O Neill says. “The best part about that environment is that our coach and our captain knew exactly what our team needed at the time and it wasn’t always so intense and tactical. We had down time. We could spend time with our families and have a balanced life.”
Throughout his professional career, O Neill’s success has come down to the relentless dedication and preparation both on and off the pitch, and the loving support he received from his family. “My parents have been huge for me, always supporting me in pursuing my dreams and I really cannot thank them enough for everything they have done for me over the years.” He describes wife Nicole as his “ best friend and team mate”. “She has had a massive influence on the person I am today and the way she was able to put her career on hold so I can my pursue my dream is amazing.”
O Neill’s footballing journey has taken him around Australia and Asia, but his modesty, his positive energy and his love for his family and friends follows him wherever he chooses to play. His journey has been different and challenging but his ability to overcome the tough times in his life while maintaining his determination, process driven mindset and selfless love towards his family and his team is the reason why he is one of the A Leagues most decorated players in recent memory.
Now back in his hometown, he’s ready for a new challenge and keen to achieve success with his hometown club.