The 21-year-old was knocked back by Sunday’s opponents Manchester United as a teenager having put everything into trying to find his way at Old Trafford.
But the Young Lion turned the nightmare of rejection at the Theatre of Dreams into a positive, with a steely determination helping him to get straight back on the ladder.
McNeil joined the Academy system at Gawthorpe in 2014 and signed his first professional contract almost three years ago to the day.
“It gave me that desire and determination to become a professional footballer in the Premier League, Championship, League One or League Two,” said McNeil, who made his 100th Premier League appearance for the Clarets against Newcastle United.
“It made me focused on becoming a professional footballer. Hopefully looking back on it, I’ve proved some people wrong.”
He added: “I look back now at being released by United. I wouldn’t have thought back then to have all this experience under my belt by this age.
“It’s a credit to the staff who believe in me here and keep playing me.
“One hundred Premier League appearances at 21 is a massive achievement. When I came in for the West Ham game, compared to where I am today, I didn’t think I would go on to make so many appearances.
“I’m happy to get to the 100-mark so quickly and now I’m just looking to make more.”
Months prior to reaching that three-figure milestone, McNeil had committed his long-term future to the club amid speculation linking him with a number of Burnley’s rivals in the top flight.
He extended his existing contract by a further 12 months in October, tying him to the club until June 2024 with the option of an additional year.
McNeil said: “The gaffer calls it ‘outside noise’, but we didn’t hear anything. It was a simple answer for me and the family to sign a new contract.
“I have loved the club ever since I have been here!
“At the end of last season I’d started all the games and going away during the summer and coming back came around so quick. I had a talk with my dad (Matty) and my family and we came to the conclusion that the best decision, the right decision, was to sign another contract and have that reassurance of being part of a team and having that establishment within the team.
“Right now, for me personally, my focus is to play for Burnley. I know the manager and the lads so well.
“I know the team we have and I am comfortable and have played a lot of football and have enjoyed it the most at Burnley.”
McNeil was handed his first league start against the Red Devils at the start of the 2018-19 campaign before scoring his first goal in a 2-0 win against West Ham United.
McNeil has since increased his tally to 21 goal contributions in the Premier League, netting seven times in total.
“I know all the players so well and what they think of me as a player and a person,” he said. “It’s such a good team to be a part of and that’s another reason that made it so easy to sign the contract in the summer.
“The players have helped me a lot, especially in possession and the management staff have helped me with what I can improve on out of possession. They help me every day in training and when we have meetings as well.”