Former Pompey favourite reveals desire for Fratton return

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Gary O’Neil has declared his Pompey dream for an emotional Fratton Park return.

And the midfielder is adamant he would snub Championship interest to fulfil his ambition.

Gary O'Neil during his Pompey playing days

Gary O'Neil during his Pompey playing days

The 35-year-old is currently a free agent following his release from Bristol City at the season’s end.

O’Neil is adamant he is over the hamstring tendon injury which blighted his final Ashton Gate campaign – and has targeted two more years as a player.

In August 2007, he was sold to Middlesborough by Harry Redknapp – following 191 appearances and 17 goals at the club where he emerged through the ranks.

Yet Pompey are embedded in O’Neil’s heart and he harbours aspirations of a Fratton Park reunion – whether as a player or in a coaching capacity.

He told The News: ‘I know I can still play in the Championship, no problem. But it’s just getting the opportunity.

‘When people ask if I will drop down, of course I would do that because I just want to keep playing. But I don’t want to because I don’t feel I need to.

‘However, if Portsmouth said to me “come and play for us”, they would be the one team I would even consider turning down Championship clubs for. I loved my time there.

‘I felt I left probably slightly too early, so have always wanted to come back in some form, some capacity.

‘I had a really good spell there, the fans were fantastic. It would be brilliant to go back and see everyone and be part of the club again.

‘Even when I speak to my wife about it, she loved her time there as well. My eldest was only aged three months, so the kids don’t know anything about Portsmouth.

‘It would be nice for them to see the atmosphere and the club – and fantastic for me.’

O’Neil became the youngest player in Pompey history when he made his debut in January 2000 against Barnsley. He was aged 16 years and 256 days – a record only surpassed by left-back Joe Hancott in August 2017.

The midfielder went on to earn a Division One title and was The News/Sports Mail player of the season during the 2005-06 Great Escape.

O’Neil added: ‘I would look to go into coaching when I'm a bit older. So could end up coming back that way. But I don't want to do that yet because I feel I still have too much to offer on the field.

‘Perhaps at Fratton Park in the future they may need an under-18s or under-23s coach. You never know when it’s going to be or how it is going to be. But it would be great to come back one day.’