THE one thing everyone will remember about the sporting Luke O’Neill, is that size never mattered to him.
Luke came to play for the Camden Haven Bombers in 2008 and one of his rugby league coaches, Todd Clarke, summed up Luke’s fearless attitude.
“The prop forwards always pick young Luke out and run at him off the tap, and without fail, he picks them up and sits them on their backside,” Todd said.
It was that attitude and determination that encapsulated Luke’s sporting prowess, whether it was touch footy, rugby league or Aussie rules.
He was a gun at anything he turned his hand to. He enjoyed playing the villain and then flashing that cheeky grin at his teammates as he stuck up for their interests.
Family, friends and teammates all came before himself.
In 2011, Luke was in trouble for a harmless prank, but his high school coach Darren Mearrick, was forced to suspend him for the next match.
This was a team scaling heights never seen before in local school Aussie rules and Luke was a key member of it. But protocols had to be followed and Luke eventually took his medicine to sit the game out – we thought that might be the last we saw of him in that school jumper.
Fifteen minutes before the game started, my phone rang and Luke was in a panic on the end of the line: “Gordo, where’s the ground, where are the boys playing at?”
After setting him straight he didn’t have time to reply, as the phone came away from his ear, I could hear: “Hurry up mum, they are at Stuart Park.”
He turned up and ran water for his teammates and he was back in the line-up the next game as they continued all the way to the State final in Albury.
He touched everyone.
As sunlight rose and rescuers searched for Luke, an old football opponent (Luke’s age) turned up at 6.30am, having driven from Port Macquarie, knocked on a nearby door and said: “How can I help?”.
Ex-teammates from his rugby league brotherhood formed guards of honour on Saturday morning and took a minute’s silence as the news filtered through.
Hundreds of friends gathered from all walks of life at the Laurieton United Services Club on Saturday only hours after confirmation that their mate was taken far too soon.
There were teachers, sporting coaches and teammates, school friends – and there were some that hadn’t met him but were well aware of his charm and manner and the effect he’d had on their own children.
They were among the many still trying to make sense of this non-sensical situation.
It will be a life-changing moment for all of those who turned up, and the many who couldn’t bring themselves to attend.
At the time of his tragic passing, Luke never seemed more together. He was in love with his girlfriend Britt Avery and bragged openly about their blossoming relationship.
He was the self-appointed guardian of his mum, Jodie – in nearly every family photograph, Luke’s arm is around her shoulders like a protective little Lion King.
And he was never more inseparable from his mates, including the two that bravely tried to help Luke at the end – Jed Seymour and Bayd Latham.
Both the boys came directly from hospital on Saturday morning to join the gathering of friends and show their support, just like Luke would have done had he been in their shoes.
The outpouring of emotion since, particularly on Facebook, shows the high esteem in which this young man was viewed.
While he was remembered for his tenacity and loyalty in his public and sporting life – those that knew him will never forget that grin a theme common through the Facebook threads.
Every time he pushed a boundary, you knew that grin was coming as his “get out of jail” play.
Whilst it was the grin that we couldn’t resist – it was his love for those lucky enough to be afforded his friendship that truly helped make everyone a little bit richer.
The only appropriate way to sign off for now, is to say thanks to Luke for the gifts he shared with us.
He will continue to be an inspiration to his generation and all those that will have a little bit of Luke in their hearts and minds forevermore.