According to the Australian Sports Commission’s official AusPlay survey, football, also referred to as soccer, is the most played sport in Australia with 1.1m participants. We catch up with one of its professional stars, Brandon O’Neill, and discuss his love for the game and living a life committed to his passion.
One of the star players in the sport is 24-year-old Brandon O’Neill, who joined Sydney FC in 2015. To date, O’Neill has helped his team achieve two Premierships, a Championship and a FFA Cup winners medal.
How and where did your football career begin?
My football journey started when I was 10. I started playing football later than most young lads as growing up I was diagnosed with Perthes Disease (a rare childhood condition that affects the hip, and can cause pain, limping and limited movement of the hip joint). I started playing football in Perth, my hometown. My entire family and friend group are mad football enthusiasts and it was always the sport of choice.
Who kept you inspired during your childhood and teenage years?
My Dad was and still is my role model. He inspires me every day. He was always the first person to say If I had a great game or not. But, more importantly he was always the first person to give me the kick up the backside I needed to improve my football. He’s always believed in me.
My persistence and drive was also a huge factor in me becoming a professional footballer. I wasn’t really bothered by parties, clubs, alcohol, etc growing up. The only thing I’ve ever wanted to do is play football and that hasn’t changed.
What was most important during the formative years in terms of health, motivation and training?
Growing up and deciding whether I wanted to take football seriously or not, I had to radically change my approach to my health and training. I realised quite quickly what I ate and how I trained affected my performance massively. I went from weighing well above 80kg, my legs cramping every match, not being fit enough and not caring about how I trained or applied myself, to weighing in at 75kg, being able to run out a football match and adopting a mindset of training the way I played – ultimately earning a professional contract at the end of that.
Have you always played midfield? what do you like most about this position?
I’ve always been a midfielder and I love it to pieces. When I was younger I was more of an attacking midfielder. Moving from Perth to Sydney, I learned how to add the defensive side to my game. Now I feel I’m getting closer and closer to working out how an all round footballer should be. The greatest thing about a midfielder is simply your involvement in the game. You’re a constant. You have to start your team’s attacks, create and help your team going forward. But, you always have to win the ball back and break up the other teams attacks as much as you can. I really enjoy my job. I’m always tempted with trying to grab a goal or an assist but I’ve worked hard on my defensive game which has helped me to become the player I am.
What does playing football in Australia mean to you?
It’s all I’ve ever known. To grow up in the football community in Australia and now to be playing at the highest level in the country I call home in front of my family and friends each week makes me extremely proud. My character and personality isn’t happy with just being happy playing here, however. I want to play at the highest level possible and I thoroughly enjoy a challenge.
What does your prehab, training, diet, sleep involve at the moment?
This is the area of my life that I’ve drastically changed. Prehab, diet, sleep and training are the tools I use to help me perform at my maximum each week.
Each day I do a minimum of 30 minutes of mobility and stretching work. My diet consists of eating real food, not too much and mostly plant and vegetables. I try as best I can to eliminate processed foods and sugar. I get a minimum of 9 hours of sleep each night.
Training is always tailor-made at Sydney FC to help us perform to our peak on the weekend.
How do you mentally prepare yourself for a game?
I love routines. My gameday routine has been crafted over the last few years and I feel more prepared then ever when it comes to kickoff. My routine stays the same and never changes. I have the same breakfast, do my same stretching, the same lunch, the same pre-match meal- every single week. Oats and banana for breakfast, brown rice, pasta and chicken breast for lunch, and multigrain toasted chicken sandwich.
How important has sports psychology been in developing your career?
I’ve only just realised over the last few years how big a role sport psychology plays in professional sport. Your mindset influences success. In the last few years I’ve been lucky to experience a lot of success, due to our mindset and culture down at Sydney FC.
I live by this motto “I’m going to do today what other people aren’t willing, so I can do tomorrow what other people can’t” Mat Fraser (Crossfit champion 3 Years running).
How do you stay motivated and focused, even when you don’t feel like it?
The hardest thing a human being can do is wake up each day with the mindset of being the best they can be. Not just being good or even great. I wake up each day and try live my life like that. No matter what the day throws at me, If I try the best I can in any situation, whether that be something as small as making my bed or morning coffee to understanding the tactics of the weekends game to being the best husband I can be… I want to be the best in every situation. It’s so easy for our minds to make excuses. That’s why I try every day to wake up and be the best me I can- because it’s so hard to do.
What are your favourite things to do over Summer?
I love this time of year. My wife and I are big fans. Summer is normally spent out the back, down by our pool or down at our local Breakfast Point Country Club. Summer brings out the best side of people. It’s for sure, the best time of year.