The Unofficial Hammer of the Year?


This season was always going to be short-lived for Gary O’Neil. Due to an awful injury that he picked up against Aston Villa, During the run in of a less than inspiring season under blinded management of Avram Grant, saw the midfielder’s career hang in the balance and leave the fans wondering if we were going to have another Dean Ashton situation on our hands. Told that it would be 50/50 chance that he would play for West Ham, or football again for that matter, must have left O’Neil in a desperately depressed situation. Though as any pro of his stature would, left him driven to come back and play football again and this drive saw him make a steady recovery.

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After 11 months, he was back and was getting his rhythm of football again. Which was obviously great news for Gary on a personal level. We as fans thought that it would be a recovery, which included a lot of bench squatting, and possibly a loan move to get first team football, as he had to compete in a battle for a place with Henri Lansbury, Jack Collison and James Tomkins who was filling in that central midfield role around February and March. Even more competition when Mark Noble, who was in imperious form, takes one of those two Middle of the park roles.

On the 24th March, Gary was given his first start up in Burnley. His contribution started to become invaluable, with a goal against Peterborough, which at the time kept us in touching distance of Reading with a pending fixture against the Royals. From that loss at Upton Park, the silver lining of the game was that Gary looked back to his best.

His role in the team became one of supporting the anchorman role of Noble’s. The role allowed Mark to play free and fluid football, spraying the ball in all directions feeding attacks and plotting the ball to the wide areas of Taylor and Vaz Te’s runs.

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This made Noble Hammer of the year, but what let him have that contribution to the team was O’Neil’s supporting role behind him, so that he could play with the freedom though having that security of O’Neil clearing up behind him, almost Parker-esque.

So for this reason, was Gary O’Neil our unofficial Hammer of the year?

Probably not, even though his contribution to the team was invaluable, he wasn’t great in the Play-off Final and went missing when some sharp counter attacks lead by Ince and Phillips came on. Also the fact that his season was short-lived makes it hard to value his performances above some of the likes of Tomkins, Nolan and Green.

Still his performances in the run in may make him a valuable player in the Premier League, even if Allardyce sees a stronger fit in that position. As a utility player he would definitely be a key asset in any team.

Written by Bud Hedges

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1 comment

  • The Cat says:

    Hammer of the Year as you suggested might be pushing it…. BUT, I congratulate you for posting such praise for Gary O’Neil….Well deserved. He made more of an impact than I would EVER have given him credit for. Never have I known any player come back from a career threatening injury and long enforced lay off to have such an impact and play such an important part, without picking up a secondary sympathy injury again.
    Gary O’Neil is the sort of team player EVERY team needs. Well done and good luck this coming season.

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