GONE TOO SOON: Rodney O?Neill.
GONE TOO SOON: Rodney O?Neill.

A life cut short

By TOBY WALKER

LIFE had just started to take off for Rodney O'Neill after he made the decision to leave Grafton for Brisbane in January this year.

A well-known player in the Grafton Redmen Rugby Union Club's second grade side, the 22-year-old had recently finished his apprenticeship and opted to head north in search of work.

Within weeks he had found a home at Kangaroo Point, a job as a mechanic and an invitation to join pre-season training with prestigious Brisbane rugby club, Souths.

Sadly, the promise and potential of Mr O'Neill's new life was cruelly taken away last week when he was found dead in his Brisbane apartment on March 7.

Mr O'Neill's family, his former Redmen teammates and the Souths players he had just started training with were shocked by the news of his sudden passing.

The circumstances surrounding Mr O'Neill's death remain unclear.

A preliminary investigation by the State Coroner has so far been unable to determine the cause of death, but more specific information will be released when it is available.

Mr O'Neill's older brother, Wayne, believes a knock to the head at a Thursday night training session with Souths may have led to the tragedy.

Wayne said Rodney had called his girlfriend after training that Thursday night complaining of blurry vision and a sore head.

That phone call was the last time anyone would hear from him.

The following Monday police were breaking the terrible news of the discovery of Mr O'Neill's body to his family.

Yesterday, Wayne was still coming to terms with his brother's death, choosing to remember the happy times they spent together as Grafton High School students.

"He had friends everywhere," Wayne said.

"He was the sort of bloke who didn't have any enemies, he was just loved by all.

"It's just surreal mate.

"He was only 22 you know, my little brother."

Redmen player-coach Steve Hackett came to know Mr O'Neill through his appearances for the first and second grade sides over the past three seasons.

A formidable second-rower, Mr O'Neill was an integral member of the reserve grade team which won two of the past three grand finals.

"Rod was a great player, everything you wanted in a footballer," Mr Hackett said.

"Last year he won the club's best and fairest and was voted players' player.

"He was always the life of the party.

"He just fitted in with the culture of rugby so well.

"He loved life and people warmed to him.

"Rod was well liked and highly respected. Everyone at the club is still in shock."

Reports of Mr O'Neill's death have come as a shock to members of Souths Rugby Club, which was dealt a similar blow this time last year when one of its players died suddenly during a training camp on Stradbroke Island.

Souths A-grade coach Ian Cameron said the club had still been rocked by the news despite Mr O'Neill being a newcomer to the club.

"The club's shocked and very saddened," he said.

"It's irrelevant how long he's been at the club because he's liked by everybody.

"He's got family, friends and all his mates he played rugby with over the years, and this is something we found out last year."

Mr O'Neill's funeral service will be held at Grafton's Christ Church Cathedral today, for rela- tives and friends, from 2.30pm.



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