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Roker Roundtable: Reacting to news of Luke O’Nien’s new Sunderland contract!

As the versatile O’Nien marks five years at Sunderland with a new deal, our writers reflect on the news and pick their favourite moments from his time on Wearside

Photo by Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says…

It seems a very obvious thing to say, but I’m delighted to see O’Nien sign a new contract and commit the prime of his career to Sunderland AFC.

His progress since signing for us five years ago has been well documented and after several seasons as a dependable utility man, he appears to be making a central defensive berth his own this season, while also wearing the captain’s armband with pride.

The club will have committed to O’Nien for footballing reasons first and foremost.

It’s clear the hierarchy see him as a defender who’s comfortable in possession and can play out from the back - a clear requirement at Sunderland in 2023/24, it would seem.

It’s interesting that Kristaan Speakman made reference to O’Nien’s character and said he promoted the type of behaviour that the club wants from its players.

That’s certainly not taking anything away from our current crop of exceptional individuals, who are a credit to the club, but it sends out a message to our young lads that if they’re looking for a role model, O’Nien sets the example they should follow.

This development comes shortly after he successfully resuscitated a dog on the beach, but his new contract hasn’t been borne out of one heroic act. It’s a testament to his healthy and clean living approach, and for leading by example both on and off the field.

I see O’Nien as a modern-day Kevin Ball-type figure, and I’d love to see him play for Sunderland in the Premier League one day.

It’s amazing that in an industry governed by big money, Sunderland can still get under the skin of a player, much in the way that it did with the likes of Ball and Niall Quinn.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

Where do you start with this kid? What a signing we made five years ago!

I had no idea who he was back then but everyone knows his name in the north east now and that isn’t going to change in a hurry.

The biggest thing for me is how O’Nien has wholeheartedly made our home town his own, to the point that I fully expect he’ll end his playing career with us, will stay in the North East afterwards, and at some time will likely move into coaching and management at Sunderland.

He’s undoubtedly one of the most likeable players of recent generations, and over and above being an all round lovely lad, he’s a proper grafter who connects with the working class roots our region is built upon. All that from a southerner born in Hemel Hempstead!

From the start of his career with us, he’s been one of the hardest-working players of recent times, training longer than his peers and practicing the weaker aspects of his game well after training has finished.

These traits have clearly aided his steady but strong progression, taking him from a youngster who was totally overawed on getting his move to Sunderland to being a Championship skipper who most of this division wish was on their side.

He is a perfect captain for Sunderland and is such a cracking role model both for footballers and for the general public in the North East.

Whether he is shit-housing our opponents or smashing them with perfectly timed tackles, or even giving CPR to elderly pets on the beach, he does it all with absolute commitment and pride in the club, himself and his own family and friends, and in the region.

I’ve been following the club for over forty years and to my mind, O’Nien sits with the likes of Kevin Ball, Niall Quinn, Kevin Phillips, Jermaine Defoe and other players who’ve really ‘got’ the club through the ages.

Some Sunderland players are good and some may even be seen as great, but not even all the great ones understood us. O’Nien isn’t the best player we have ever had, but he understands Sunderland, and of that there’s no doubt.

I’m very confident we’ll continue to build a huge catalogue of his fun and footballing frolics across the rest of his career, and I’m over the moon to know he’s here for what will be the majority of his best footballing years.

Well done, Luke. I’m as chuffed for you as much as I am for us fans, and now let’s go up again in the next season or two, and show all those who may have doubted you about what you can do.

Let’s show them that you can perform in red and white, even in the best league in world football.

Phil West says…

For me, the new contract is just reward for a player who joined the club in the dark days of 2018 and has become a Sunderland stalwart, under a variety of different managers and head coaches and in teams that have changed dramatically over the years.

From the dog days of League One to playoff failures, Covid-interrupted seasons and then the eventual Wembley success over Wycombe last May, O’Nien has always been there; a constant presence amid a changing landscape at the Stadium of Light, and it’s great that his Sunderland journey is going to run for a while yet.

Let’s be honest, if you can impress the dour Phil Parkinson, the offbeat Lee Johnson, the abrasive Alex Neil and then make yourself a first choice selection in a Tony Mowbray team, you’re doing something right and O’Nien has done just that during his time here.

His adaptability and willingness to slot into any position in order to help the team are well known, and it’s this kind of selfless attitude that’s helped him excel in red and white. He’s also a model professional who sets a brilliant example for his teammates and is also a far more talented footballer than he’s often given credit for.

At the moment, he’s doing a fine job as a Championship-standard central defender, but I’ve no doubt that at some point this season, he’ll show that versatility by stepping into another role as injury cover, and being more than comfortable there.

Although I’d stop short of bracketing O’Nien as a Sunderland ‘legend’, which I believe should be reserved for a very select band of players to have represented the club, what I would say is that he’s immensely influential both on and off the field, with his football prowess balanced by his willingness to engage with supporters in the community and offer his backing to charitable causes.

In short, he’s everything I love in a Sunderland player, and I think there’s a good chance that he’ll finish his professional career on Wearside, hopefully with a testimonial match, and that one day we’ll be able to reflect on just what he’s given to the club since his arrival half a decade ago.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images


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