Anyone who bought the Stoke programme will have no doubt seen the praise that has been heaped upon Joey O’Brien which is well deserved it is too because the Irish utility man has certainly been earning his keep of late.
Having made his Premier League début with Bolton in 2004, O’Brien was loaned out to Sheffield Wednesday for the rest of the season, before returning to the Trotters and attempting to establish himself at the Reebok.
But after suffering a serious injury and missing most of the 06/07 season, he found it difficult to break back into the Trotters side. Despite being offered a one year extension to his contract, keeping him at Bolton until 2011, he was eventually released and found himself without a club.
Fortunately for himself and for us, Sam Allardyce was appointed manager around about the same time and he moved quickly to secure O’Briens services. And the Dubliner has repaid both manager and club handsomely with some excellent performances, earning him praise from both TV pundits and the paying crowd alike.
Equally comfortable in the right back position as cover for Guy Demel, O’Briens natural place is right midfield and it is here that he has excelled both this season and last. He scored a fantastic goal away to Watford on a warm, late summers evening at the start of our brief dip into the Championship as well as netting his first Premier League effort at home to Stoke in our most recent home game.
Of course some will point out the sending off at Reading last season as a sign of a bad tempered player, but that was the first and only time the player has been dismissed. He also wasn’t alone in being sent off and as a team, we were pretty awful that day anyway. But people who actually know the game and understand how teams work together have been pretty much universal in their praise for Joey of late and it’s easy to see why.
Before the Stoke game, I read a very interesting statistic in Ken Dyer’s article from The Evening Standard, saying that in the 594 minutes the Irishman had been on the pitch, West Ham had conceded one goal. I don’t normally put much faith in statistics but that really is quite astonishing and it’s obvious that O’Brien has played a massive part in our excellent start to the season.
It’s essential when players are out injured or suspended that we have quality replacements to come in and cover and in O’Brien we have just that as he has proved by fitting in seamlessly at right back and helping to keep the defensive unit stable and solid. Luckily we have players of his and Matt Taylors ability available to us.
Joey has also found international recognition with the Republic of Ireland, making his début in 2006 under Steve Staunton, but found his time in the Green shirt of Ireland interrupted by injury. His good league form has not gone unnoticed by Giovanni Trapattoni and he received his first call up in four years in August when Ireland played Serbia. It seems he will push Sean St Ledger for his spot in next year’s qualifiers as the Republic look to rebuild after a torrid Euro campaign.
And it’s testament to Sam Allardyce’s management skills that the player has gone from being unemployed to enjoying the top half of the Premier League table and international recognition. Hopefully he can add to his goal tally as well as establishing a partnership with the outstanding Demel and really help us push on towards that elusive European place come the end of the season.
If the “solid and unspectacular” label fits O’Brien then personally I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s very difficult to claim the headlines as a defender or winger if you are doing your job well.
The papers and media will always gravitate to the strikers for the headlines, unless you are playing badly and conceding goals. Then you start to see defenders and defensive minded players mentioned but for all the wrong reasons. So far our defensive unit has stayed out of the spotlight and put in the kind of performances to make us and themselves proud. But it’s nice to see them get some of the praise they deserve.
Because the with Chelsea and Liverpool coming up they will all need to be at their level best if we are to avoid a downward spiral in the league. It’s nice to be able to say I’m feeling confident and actually mean it.