Aiden O’Neill was faced with a difficult decision at the end of last season.
After four loan spells – including two in the A-League with the Central Coast Mariners and Brisbane Roar – the time came for the 22-year-old to decide whether his future lay at Premier League and parent club Burnley or elsewhere.
Burnley – where O’Neill signed with as a 16-year-old and made three senior appearances – had offered the midfielder a new contract with the intention to loan him out again, before Melbourne City came knocking with a three-year deal.
‘’It’s a difficult decision, you would think the easy decision would be to stay [at Burnley],’’ O’Neill told FNR.
‘’I didn’t think I got the greatest opportunity in the end. I was still lucky enough to earn a debut and play in the Premier League, which was a dream come true, but I think it was the right time.
‘’They wanted to loan me out again, so there comes a point where you want to be playing every week and if you’re not you have to look at where you’re going to grow.
‘’It might be good sitting on the bench in Premier League, but would I learn and grow as much as a player? Nah, for me I wouldn’t. Playing games is the best learning and that’s the decision I had to make and I feel I’ve made the right one.’’
A permanent move to the A-League, with game-time being the priority, is one O’Neill sees as reflective of his growth during his time overseas.
The midfielder spent four years abroad, which included loan spells in League One with Oldham Athletic – whom O’Neill helped rescue from relegation – and Fleetwood Town.
‘’I feel I grew up a lot, you’re in man’s world and you realise that from a very young age,’’ he said.
‘’When I was 16 it clicked that this isn’t kids football and when you start training with the first team you either float or you don’t. You do learn how to win games; it’s not always about how pretty the football is sometimes it’s just about survival.’’
City will be hoping the 22-year-old brings this same tenacity next season, as the club attempts to go a step further in 2020/21.
After a heartbreaking finish to last season – which saw City finish up with three runner-up medals in the league, finals and FFA Cup – the club has bolstered its ranks with its sights set on silverware..
O’Neill has made 40 A-League appearances since arriving in 2018 and joins Socceroo Andrew Nabbout as well as Marco Tillio, Taras Gomulka, Ben Garuccio and Matt Sutton as the club’s new signings.
The 2020/21 A-League season will commence on December 27.