One old ‘Journal’ photograph, two future stars and the rest is history

BOY WONDERS... Christian Brothers, Brow-of-the-Hill, Derry, winners of the Rice Cup in 1969. Centre in back row is John ONeill, who would go on to play for Northern Ireland in two World Cup finals, and centre of front row, holding the trophy, is John ONeill, chief songwriter with Derry punk icons, The Undertones.
BOY WONDERS... Christian Brothers, Brow-of-the-Hill, Derry, winners of the Rice Cup in 1969. Centre in back row is John ONeill, who would go on to play for Northern Ireland in two World Cup finals, and centre of front row, holding the trophy, is John ONeill, chief songwriter with Derry punk icons, The Undertones.

Just another old photograph from the archives of the ‘Derry Journal’, you might say on first glance at this image.

Well, yes and no. Yes, it is a photo from yesteryear and, yes, it does form part of the ‘Journal’s amazing collection of images from times-gone-by in Derry.

John O'Neill in action for Northern Ireland at the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1986.

John O'Neill in action for Northern Ireland at the World Cup finals in Mexico in 1986.

But, if you look at it just a little bit closer, you might see what’s slightly unusual about it.

No doubt, most people will be able to identify someone in the school Gaelic football team from half a century ago but what’s a wee bit different is that the squad features two youngsters with the same name who, just a few short years later, would go on to bigger and better things in very different fields of the ‘entertainment’ industry.

Worked it out yet? Well, the two boys with the same name are John O’Neill and, well, yes, John O’Neill.

The two O’Neills, one hailing from Creggan and the other from Beechwood Avenue, are, in local terms anyway, “living legends”.

John O'Neill at the height of The Undertones' fame in the early 1980s.

John O'Neill at the height of The Undertones' fame in the early 1980s.

The John O’Neill (centre of the back row) would go on to play in two World Cup finals while the other John (holding trophy in front row), who is six months older than his namesake, is regarded as one of the finest songwriters to have emerged from Derry - indeed, Ireland - for a very, very long time.

When the picture was taken, in May 1969, the fresh-faced youngsters, both aged 11, were pupils at the Christian Brothers Primary School, Brow-of-the-Hill in Derry, and were members of the school’s winning Rice Cup team.

They defeated the Belfast primary schools’ champions, Park Lodge, by an emphatic scoreline of 3-1 to 0-2 in the final at Ballinascreen.

A report of the match which appeared in the May 9, 1969 edition of the ‘Derry Journal’, described the game as a “splendid display of determination, endurance and skill”.

In what appears to have been a pretty one-sided first-half, the Derry boys had the Park Lodge defence under constant pressure and their tactics eventually paid off with two goals - one of them a “well-taken” penalty from a J. O’Neill. Which of the O’Neills, you might ask? The paper doesn’t say but we have it on good authority that it was the future football star who hit the back of the net from the spot.

The second half, however, was a different affair altogether with Park Lodge - now with a strong wind at their backs - mounting attack after attack.

The ‘Journal’ reported that, at times, the CBS backline looked to be on the verge of collapse.

However, thanks to the “heroic work” of, yes, you’ve guessed it, the younger J. O’Neill - “whose catching and long kicking was a feature of the game” - the Park Lodge score remained at just two points.

A further goal from CBS substitute G. McCarron finished the game as a contest and the Rice Cup was on its way back to Derry.

The first of many successes for the two O’Neills who, within a matter of years, were scaling the heights of their chosen careers.

The older O’Neill - who was goalkeeper in the victorious Rice Cup side - founded The Undertones in 1975 and wrote the majority of the band’s hits.

Undertones songs written by John O’Neill include the singles “Teenage Kicks”, “Jimmy Jimmy”, “Here Comes The Summer”, “Wednesday Week” and “You’ve Got My Number”.

After releasing four albums and thirteen singles, The Undertones disbanded in 1983 with John and younger brother, Damian, forming That Petrol Emotion, a critically acclaimed band who disbanded in 1994.

The Undertones reformed in November 1999 with a new frontman and continue to tour.

The other John O’Neill played for Northern Ireland in the World Cup tournaments of 1982 and 1986. He eventually won 39 caps for NI, his last against Brazil in the 1986 finals in Mexico.

At club level, O’Neill played for Leicester City, QPR and Norwich City in the 1970s and 80s. His career was cut short by injury.

After his playing career ended, O’Neill had a spell managing Finn Harps in the League of Ireland and was, for a period, a member of the board of Derry City FC.

He can now be heard commentating on Northern Ireland international games on BBC Radio Ulster.

Not bad, eh, for a couple of local boys.