“I feel like we could make a real good culture down there.”
Maybe it’s something his prospective suitors should keep in mind.
“If Tassie were in the [league] now, I’d choose Tassie.”
But being Tassie’s lone wolf has its drawbacks. O’Neill understands why others are interested in him, but the attention hasn’t all been positive, especially at Guilford Young College in Hobart where he’s been schooled.
“This year’s been a lot of pressure for me, dealing with that kind of stuff is pretty hard,” he said.
“I’m not only representing me, I’m representing Tassie.
“People at school bringing it up all the time. It’s just frustrating. Everywhere you go, you’re labelled as that bloke who plays footy. At times you just want to be relaxed and left alone. I feel like if I didn’t get drafted I’d let a lot of people down. That’s a big thing I have to deal with every day.
“These mock drafts come out and sometimes you’re not in them. People are like ‘where are you mate?’ I try to have a laugh at it. But sometimes it hurts a bit.”
AFL Tasmania’s welfare coordinator Emma Harris has proved to be a major help, her counsel helping O’Neill deal with the hype.
“Keep your network real close, I guess,” O’Neill says of the advice.
“Have your mates, and if people do ask about it just ignore them, don’t be rude, just try to change the subject, which has really helped. And just try to stay away from those negative people who may try to stir a bit of stuff up. She’s been really good.”
O’Neill – who wants to become a tradie away from footy – is an intriguing proposition at this year’s draft, having dealt with knee and ankle issues over the past 12 months. Some clubs don’t rate him, but one said they had him falling around pick 40. If he does make it though, O’Neill will bring with him a classic nickname: “Snitty”. It originates from a pre-game schnitzel burger he had before kicking 12 goals in an under 13s grand final.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter