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Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round

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Luke O’Nien — two hundred and fifty Sunderland games... and counting!

“Signed from Wycombe in 2018 and now playing under his sixth permanent Sunderland boss, our captain has become an indispensable figure,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

In the summer of 2018, Sunderland were preparing for a first season of third tier football in thirty years, and only our second ever. Many of the players signed during that window amounted to very little, and only one remains.

Luke O’Nien has found a footballing home on Wearside, playing in many different positions and establishing himself a player who stands out for his work and antics both on and off the pitch. Indeed, the labrador-saving utility man has often been a bright spark during some of the darkest periods in the club’s history.

The starting line-up for O’Nien’s debut, versus Charlton in August 2018, makes for an interesting read, not least because he started on the right wing with the likes of Josh Maja, Bali Mumba, and Glen Loovens lining up alongside him.

This is one of about half a dozen positions in which O’Nien has played during his Sunderland career, and he’s made his mark on every one of them.

Sunderland v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Fast forward five and a half years, and O’Nien has clocked up almost 20,000 minutes in a Sunderland shirt. Over 2,000 days have come and gone since he signed for then-manager Jack Ross, and there have been plenty of standout displays along the way.

O’Nien has been selected by six permanent Sunderland bosses, all of whom have trusted him, and this isn’t a coincidence, because he’s a top professional who’s successfully made the step up to the Championship.

He’s got his critics and some people who seem to build their personality around actively hating him, but every week, he shows why he’s in the team.

As a centre back, O’Nien can carry the ball out well and pick passes that many probably wouldn’t be able to. He’s far from perfect but he brings a level of passion and a personality that’s helped us through some tough times.

Bristol Rovers v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Semi Final Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tony Mowbray and now Michael Beale have also trusted O’Nien with the Sunderland captaincy.

Playing in all but one Championship match this season, he’s one of the older heads in a side filled with promising youngsters. His leadership has shown him in an even more positive light and this was further exemplified during the 3-1 win against Stoke.

Mason Burstow bagged his first Sunderland goal on Saturday and as part of the celebrations, O’Nien encouraged the Chelsea loanee to celebrate in front of the Roker End. Burstow’s had a tough time of it this season, but he’s a hard worker and his captain made sure he soaked up the applause.

This wasn’t the first time that O’Nien has done such a thing, as he also ensured that Nazariy Rusyn took the plaudits for his well-worked finish against Preston on New Year’s Day.

The Ukrainian striker has struggled to settle in, and getting an arm around his shoulder from his skipper is exactly what he needed. O’Nien gives you this in abundance, and he’s been a key factor in the progress the club has made on the pitch.

Sunderland v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Saying that players ‘get the club’ can be risky in the modern era, especially for those not from the local area, but O’Nien comes across as someone this can genuinely be applied to. As we build and grow as a team, you’d think that his days as a centre back may be numbered, but he continues to justify his selection there.

He’s not the fastest, strongest, or most skilful footballer, but he continues to earn his place in the team by bringing a bit of fight, guile, and composure on the ball.

We don’t know what the future holds for our longest-serving player, but we can be pretty sure that no matter how many more games he plays in red and white, Luke O’Nien will get firmly stuck into them.

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