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Dave Evans, West Ham Correspondennt
Friday, July 27, 2012
West Ham midfielder Gary O’Neil’s attempt to qualify for the Open were dashed, but he is never happier than when he has a Hammers kit on
There were three different places that Gary O’Neil could have been on Saturday when West Ham travelled to Colchester United for a pre-season friendly.
The most likely was that he would be on the treatment table still nursing the ankle injury that nearly ended his career.
Perhaps the most unlikely was that he could have been at Royal Lytham playing in the Open Golf Championship after pitting his skills at the qualifying event.
As it was, the 29-year-old midfielder was in sunny Essex playing for the Hammers, and he could not have been happier.
“It’s good to be back and pre-season is important for me,” said O’Neil, who made his comeback last December after eight months on the sidelines and played an important part in the Hammers return to the Premier League.
“I’m pleased to be back involved and pleased that I haven’t missed anything at all which is good.
“Sometimes, with injuries like this you have to rest it every now and again and just give it a bit of a breather, but touch wood, it has been fantastic.
“The ankle is not the same as it was before of course, but you have to adjust to things, it is easily manageable and I can play 90 minutes which is all that matters.”
O’Neil added a spark to the West Ham midfield last season, providing the pace they were lacking with Mark Noble and Kevin Nolan in the side.
And he was filling that role again at Colchester on Saturday.
“It was a good work-out, especially in the first half,” said the midfielder. “It slowed down a little bit in the second half with the heat and with it being pre-season, but the first half felt like a proper league game for the first time, so it was another good run-out.”
O’Neil is part of the squad that travelled to Germany on Monday and he expects the Hammers to come on leaps and bounds in the week they are out there.
“I think three games in five days is going to be tough so it will be interesting to see how much we can get into the week,” he said.
“I think we have got quite a few lads going, so I doubt if anyone will play 90 minutes in all three.
“It is going to be a good test, we will do some fitness work in between and I think that is the real difference in pre-season whereas in the league in the build up to games you ease down and have a rest.”
O’Neil has seen what the Premier League has to offer before, so how does he think the West Ham squad is shaping up?
“I think quality wise the squad is looking good,” insisted O’Neil. “I think numbers wise we are a bit short, but I am sure the gaffer and the board are working hard to address that.
“But numbers wise, with Tomkins and Diame away at the Olympics it leaves us a little bit bare, especially at centre half as if we get an injury we haven’t got any, but the gaffer is well aware of what is going on and I’m sure we will get some more in.”
So what about Lytham? Was O’Neil dreaming of rubbing shoulders with the world’s elite golfers?
“No, no,” he insisted modestly. “I never really planned to actually get there, it was just a bit of an experience to have a knock and the guy I played with in qualifying (Warren Bennett) is doing well, which is good.”
O’Neil is looking better too and he may prove a vital man as West Ham return to the top flight.