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Leaders of the pack: Luke O’Nien

Mike Stubbs looks at the leaders we still have who might help Sunderland’s exciting but inexperienced prospects cope with the ups and downs of a Championship season. Today - Luke O’Nien.

Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the departures of established experienced players such as Danny Batth and Lynden Gooch, there has been a great deal of discussion around the inexperience of the squad that Tony Mowbray now has at his disposal.

Over the next couple of days, Mike Stubbs takes a look at the leaders we still have who might help Sunderland’s exciting prospects cope with the ups and downs of a Championship season.

Todays focus is on current on field skipper Luke O’Nien.

To paraphrase Dr Samuel Johnson ‘When you are tired of Luke O’Nien, you are tired of life’!

The Swiss Army knife of the squad, Luke O’Nien’s progress from fresh-faced recruit from Wycombe to wearing the captain’s armband has been nothing less than joyous.

If you loved him for that full-blooded challenge at Wembley in the playoff final against his old club, then his heroics on the beach to save the life of a stricken elderly German Pointer will only have cemented his place in your affections.

Some are still to be won over by his conversion to a central defender - but it is a path that others have taken at Sunderland. The imperious Dave Watson, one of the club’s greatest centre halves, was signed as a striker from Rotherham - it was Bob Stokoe who recognised where his best position in the team lay.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

O’Nien’s versatility is just one aspect of his capabilities. His stamina and resilience is testament to a personal commitment to his fitness and conditioning that goes beyond whatever the club expects. He is one of those players who will stay behind when training has finished, working to hone his skills.

He has the vision to see the opportunities for long raking crossfield passes - and he has developed the ability to deliver them with either foot. He never gives ground, and gets under the skin of opponents in a way that endears him to our fans, if not the opposition. And he has eliminated the rash challenges that saw him red carded, or giving away needless penalties.

He has emerged as a key player in the system that Tony Mowbray now wants to embed. His antecedents as a midfielder endow him with the skills and confidence to keep possession moving, and bring the ball out of defence for our creative players to take advantage of.

Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

He embodies every positive behaviour that you would wish to see in a footballer - committed, tenacious, professional, dedicated to his own development and a role model that others should look at, and learn from.

The fact that the club recently moved to tie him down to a new long term contract shows that his importance to this young squad has not gone unnoticed.

His unbridled joy in celebrating with Chris Rigg at the death against Southampton had an almost fatherly touch about it. At 28, he is already the elder statesman of the current team, and is clearly revelling in the responsibility of the armband.

His enthusiasm for the club and the fans is unconstrained - he is starting to become regarded as one of the great characters we have enjoyed over the seasons. Even if he never quite reaches the heights of a Len Shackleton or a Kevin Ball, he is carving out his own niche in the hearts of the red and white faithful.

If Sunderland’s young guns need a role model in absolute professionalism, and to help them understand what it means to represent our great club, they could have no better one than Luke O’Nien.


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