His name has been conspicuously absent from most conversations about who should be named Sheffield United’s player of the year.
But Chris Wilder believes Jack O’Connell, the former England youth international, should really be at the forefront of most people’s minds.
“Let’s take Jack as an example,” the United manager said. “When you talk about awards like that, he’s been outstanding all season. He’s always been out there and his consistency levels are amazing. He’s not missed a game.”
O’Connell has emerged as a key member of Wilder’s first team squad since arriving Brentford two years ago. A veteran of last term’s League One title winning campaign, he is regarded by many as a future club captain despite being 11 months short of his 25th birthday.
The trouble is, when it comes to individual recognition at least, that O’Connell goes about his work with the minimum of fuss. While Leon Clarke scores goals, John Fleck makes passes and Mark Duffy bamboozles opponents with his movement and grace, the centre-half wins tackles, headers and races. Three things which guarantee Wilder’s admiration and respect. But which do not burn themselves in the memory like a spectacular finish or defence-splitting pass.
“No matter what you do, whatever your job is, those are three boxes every professional has to tick,” Wilder continued. “You can talk about the diagonals, playing between the lines and all that nonsense as much as you like. It might sound good but what does it really mean?
“Good players, intelligent players, are what you need. I think we’ve got plenty of those. But if you don’t put the work in, if you don’t win those tackles, headers and races, then don’t give yourself a chance of winning games. It’s that simple.”
O’Connell boasts another quality which, particularly in the present climate, make him a coach’s dream. Despite overpowering many opponents with his physicality, the centre-half entered last weekend’s game against Preston North End having collected only six yellow cards in 46 outings. At least one of those, at Birmingham City nine days ago, could be attributed to a referee’s desire to clamp down on anything vaguely resembling a tackle rather than the player responsible over-stepping the mark.
“It’s tough in this day and age,” Wilder admitted.