Game Ready: Shooting Tips from U.S. National Teamer Brennan O'Neill

PHOTO BY ADY KERRY


This article appears in the December edition of USA Lacrosse Magazine. Join our momentum.

The rise of Brennan O’Neill isn’t surprising to anyone who followed him in high school on Long Island. He earned USA Lacrosse’s National Player of the Year honor after scoring seven goals to lead St. Anthony’s past Chaminade in the CHSAA championship game as a junior.

O’Neill lost his senior season to COVID, finishing his high school career with 219 points, but his best days were clearly ahead.

As a freshman at Duke, O’Neill added ACC Freshman of the Year to his resume. And in 2022, O’Neill paced the Blue Devils with 53 goals and 21 assists for 74 points. He didn’t stop there. O’Neill traded Duke blue and white for USA red, white and blue this summer, leading the U.S. U21 team with 25 points (18 goals) in a gold-medal-winning performance. Then he got the call from coach John Danowski to join the senior team for Fall Classic in October. He was named to the senior team on Dec. 20, making him the youngest player on the roster and the only current collegian.

O’Neill said his time with the U.S. national teams has changed his outlook heading into his junior year at Duke.

“Whenever you put the USA on your chest, everyone wants to win for the same reason — your country,” he said. “It’s helped me become a teammate. When you play for something bigger than yourself, it puts into perspective what team really is.”

It’s safe to say O’Neill’s teammates appreciated his goal output, driven largely by precision, power and deception. Watch O’Neill in slow motion and you see the attackman often looks one way and shoots another. He’s also known as one of the best stretch shooters, someone who can generate power and still finish at a low angle.

In an interview with USA Lacrosse Magazine, O’Neill revealed the inspiration behind his shooting technique and how he’s developed a strategy that fakes out opposing goaltenders.

PLAY BOX

O’Neill started perfecting the skill when he realized goalies tracked his body language.

“They do follow your stick, but a lot of times, if your head dips, they’ll dip with you,” O’Neill said. “Then, you just put it high.”

Though O’Neill is establishing himself as one of the best field players on the planet, he developed his deceptive shooting tactics from playing and watching box lacrosse.

“In tight quarters, there is no time to use stick fakes,” O’Neill said. “A lot of it is head fakes. Putting your head one way, shooting it the other.”







THINK FAST (AND LESS)

Practice has helped body fakes become more natural for O’Neill — a necessity in the fast-paced sport. “A lot of it is thinking less and just doing it,” he said.

It helps that a head fake doesn’t require fancy stickwork.

“When you use your head to deceive a goalie, your stick doesn’t need to do anything,” O’Neill said. “Tilt your head one way and just keep the stick in the same place it already is. Then, you want to snap it from there, as low cradle as possible. The point is to limit the stick fakes and just snap it off with your wrists.”

DON’T GET COMPLACENT

O’Neill modeled his interior shooting technique after that of pro lacrosse legend John Grant Jr. “He was very good at dipping his head and putting it high,” he said.

But as one of the most scouted players in the game, O’Neill knows he can’t settle for just one move. He’s had to evolve the skill over the years, drawing inspiration from watching penalty shots in hockey.

“After a while, goalies will catch on, so you have to use your shoulders and feet,” O’Neill said.

FULL BODY STRETCH

In addition to deceptive body language, O’Neill is a powerful stretch shooter, a reputation powered by his work in the weight room while no one is watching. During the offseason, he lifts four to five times per week. He's 6-foot-2, 225 pounds of sheer muscle mass.

“Shooting is full body,” O’Neill said. “You want a good plant, so you need strong legs. But you use your arms a lot, so biceps, triceps, chest and legs are important to work.”

There’s more to stretch shooting than just power and velocity, however.

“Not everyone can shoot very hard,” O’Neill said. “If you are shooting from a good distance, a lot of it is the spot you put it in. Goalies are great now, so it’s a lot less speed and more deception and placement.”

TRUST YOUR STICK

Even if some of O’Neill’s moves don’t require a ton of stickwork, he often trusts his stick over his own eyes when he’s looking to finish at a low or unfavorable angle at at goal line extended.

“Your stick has eyes,” O’Neill said. “Maybe your eyes can’t see any angle, but your stick can get to a better angle than where your eyes are at. A lot of it is putting my stick out in front of the cage — even if my body is at goal line — and wrist strength. Then, I snap my wrists down.”

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