O'Neill (29) has been troubled with an ankle injury for the past 12 months and on medical advice has decided to end his rugby playing career. His last full competitive game for Munster was in the Heineken Cup final in May last year and the following month (June 2002)he was included in the Irish national squad that toured New Zeland. He was also included in the national training camp in Spala but subsequent appearances for Munster were restricted because of the ankle problem.
A strong running wing for Munster, he was also a ferocious tackler whose strength made him such an imposing figure. He will perhaps be best remembered for that now famous, try that wasn't in the Heineken Cup semi final against Stade Francais in Lille. In scoring that try O'Neill showed, speed, skill, >strength and the presence of mind to get the touchdown despite the tackle, which should have been rewarded with a place in the final.
A little over twelve months later, he had a most impressive game in the final of that competition when he was drafted into the side after recovering from a shoulder injury. And once again he came within a whisker of scoring the try that might have delivered victory when he was denied by a last gasp tackle in the right hand corner.
On several occasions John O'Neill was within reach of a place in the national squad only for injury to deny him show his paces on a wider stage.
Speaking about O'Neill's enforced retirement Munster team manager Jerry Holland said, "It is very disappointing news indeed. John has been an integral part of the squad and his presence over the past number of seasons has contributed enormously to the success of the side. John was very popular with everyone involved and he will be hugely missed. However, it is important that the decision is the right one for the player himself and I know I speak for everyone in wishing John the very best in whatever he chooses to do in the future."
O'Neill began his rugby playing career with Highfield under-age before progressing to the senior side as a seventeen year old. He moved on to play club rugby with Sunday's Well where his performances brought him to the attention of the Munster selectors and he joined Munster ranks in 1998/1999 ending the year playing in the quarter final of the Heineken Cup against Colomiers in France. He went on to be involved in the Heineken Cup final in Twickenham and he played in the inaugural Celtic League final and wound up his club career as a member of Shannon.
Although now forced to give up the playing side he has not ruled out a return to rugby from another angle. "It goes without saying that I am pretty dejected about having to give up playing rugby. I thought I would have gotten a few more years out of a job I really enjoyed. But in the end the decision was made for me and now it's a question of getting on with it.
"I had some great times, at club level, but particularly with Munster. Disappointed obviously that we never got to lift the European Cup and even more disappointed that when they do that I won't be a part of it. The priority now for me is to get myself sorted out work-wise with a view to the future. As I said I thought up to very recently that I would be involved in rugby for a few years to come but now I have to readjust my thinking and think of another career. But once I have that sorted out I'd love to return to rugby at some level of coaching.
"I would like to thank all involved, players and management for some great times and wish them nothing but the best for the future.