FFA Cup Final 2018 Player To Watch: Brandon O'Neill

The early evidence suggests this could be Brandon O'Neill's best season yet for Sydney FC.

Perhaps partially overshadowed by midfield partner Josh Brillante in recent seasons, O'Neill has nevertheless been a key cog in a machine that has swept to regular trophies.

Now it seems as if the well-rounded distributor is ready to elevate his game to a new level, just in time for the second FFA Cup Final of his career.

Form fit for a Final

O'Neill was excellent in Round 1 of the new Hyundai A-League season.

Given the opponents were Adelaide United and the venue Coopers Stadium, just as they will be on October 30, a shortlist of speculative contenders for the Mark Viduka Medal would surely include the 24-year-old's name.

1
O'Neill in action during the Sky Blues' 2018 FFA Cup Campaign.

In the Sky Blues' 1-1 draw, O'Neill posted game-high numbers of tackles, interceptions and possession recoveries.

He also contested 13 duels, had 89 touches and finished with a tidy passing accuracy of 88 per cent.

The contribution was more than enough to Sydney FC's cause and yet he might even have been a bigger hero had a curling first-half effort not been marginally wide of the target.

As it was, the visitors were made to come from behind to earn a point thanks in no small part to one of their two tireless screeners.

O'Neill assessed the performance as a step in the right direction, with his own standout 90 minutes arguably the most useful takeaway for Steve Corica.

"It's probably the best thing we went to a difficult place like Adelaide and left without a loss," O'Neill told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"There are so many positives to come out of that and so much learning that holds us in better stead for the season."

Brandon O'Neill
O'Neill in action against Adelaide United in Round 1.

Been there and won it

The Sky Blues had some departures in the offseason, but Sydney FC still have enough big-game experience within their ranks to prevent the FFA Cup Final from weighing heavily on their minds.

O'Neill, now in his fourth full campaign with the club, is at the core of a hardened, self-assured group.

His three previous seasons have yielded two Premiers Plates, Hyundai A-League Grand Final success and an FFA Cup winners' medal.

It's a record footballers wearied by far longer careers must envy.

The ex-Perth Glory player has also taken a particular liking to the Sydney Derby, in which two of his six competitive club goals have come.

With his blend of grit off the ball and grace in possession approaching its peak, O'Neill's challenge now is to again deliver for his side in what could be a cauldron-like atmosphere at Coopers Stadium next week.

Matching the standards set in Round 1 could even take O'Neill and teammate Brillante to higher honours if Corica's prediction proves accurate.

"They are great professionals, they work very hard and I wouldn't be surprised if one or both of them end up in the national team this year," the Sky Blues boss said, as quoted by AAP.

"Graham [Arnold] knows them very well and knows what to expect from them. He knows what they can give."