While critics come and go, if Burnley wanted Aiden O'Neill to tackle the tough yards of professional football, they couldn't have picked a better side than Central Coast Mariners.

O'Neill, who played three Premier League matches for Burnley before successful loan spells at League One clubs Oldham Athletic and Fleetwood Town, has now played over 1,500 minutes across 19 appearances and scored four goals - including a couple of belters - for the struggling A-League side.

He leads the Mariners in minutes played, more than doubles his next nearest teammate for ball possession and, somewhat unbelievably for a makeshift centreback, is equal first in goals scored.

The 20-year-old Burnley loanee now faces another six matches in the yellow and navy before his loan deal expires and the Brisbane-born midfielder most likely returns to the English Premier League.


Arnold names his Olyroos

Graham Arnold has named the first Olyroos squad of his new era for the upcoming AFC U23 Championship qualifiers in Cambodia later this month.

But what has been a tumultuous Gosford summer for the rest of his squad has been a breath of fresh air for O'Neill, who has excelled as arguably the Central Coast's most consistent performer this season.

Despite - or perhaps due to - enduring the worst run in the club's history, he's the first to admit that it's been a career-changing experience.

"Coming here has been a massive learning experience for me," O'Neill reflected.

"When you're a young kid, and I'm only 20-years-old, you just want to play games, play football and get experience."

It's a home-grown education that O'Neill nearly never had. The former Nudgee Junior College prodigy grew up playing for Brisbane Athletic but shot off to England at just fourteen, not for a football contract, but for his parents' work. 

His Gosford seachange has also proven a departure from the relative off-field stability of Burnley, whose iconoclastic gaffer Sean Dyche is a perennial over-achiever and emerging club legend.