Sheffield United: Update provided on Jack O'Connell as another defender makes slow progress

Sheffield United defender Jack O’Connell is still waiting to discover when he could be ready for a return to action, 15 months after playing his last game for the club.

Thursday, 17th February 2022, 3:32 pm
Jack O'Connell on one of his last appearances for Sheffield United before being injured: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Jack O'Connell on one of his last appearances for Sheffield United before being injured: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

O’Connell has not made an appearance since undergoing surgery to try and cure a knee injury, which is understood to have troubled him through his professional career.

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A pivotal figure in the pioneering system which helped United win two promotions under Chris Wilder, losing O’Connell was cited as a major factor behind last term’s relegation from the Premier League.

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Sheffield United manager Paul Heckingbottom: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

Paul Heckingbottom refused to predict when the centre-half, whose overlapping runs were once the talk of the top-flight, might return to action after being pressed on the matter ahead of Saturday’s game against Swansea City.

But the United manager did insist O’Connell is still actively trying to regain his fitness rather than laying the groundwork for retirement, saying: “Jack is still rehabbing and going through all the processes. He is still on that road and that journey and we know how tough it has been for him.

“He spends time here and he spends time away, as well, for his own well-being. Jack is still working hard.”

Rhian Brewster, Ben Osborn (left) and Enda Stevens are all injured: Simon Bellis / Sportimage

With O’Connell destined to sit out the entire 2021/22 campaign, Heckingbottom was asked if he has a chance of taking some part in this summer’s pre-season programme. After experiencing a huge improvement in results following the 44-year-old’s appointment in November, United have prepared for their meeting with City ranked eighth in the Championship table - two points outside of the play-off positions.

“We’re not putting a timescale on this, because all that does is put pressure on Jack,” Heckingbottom continued. “He’s been down so many different avenues and roads, so that’s something we’re not going to do.

“The most important thing at the moment - well, for me anyway - isn’t getting Jack back on the football pitch for us. It’s about making sure he’s good as a person, not a footballer, first. That’s what we are focusing on right now. I won’t be setting any dates but he’s working hard as you would expect to come back.”

With the fixture schedule beginning to take its toll on United’s squad - David McGoldrick is the latest name on a casualty list which includes record signing Rhian Brewster and of course O’Connell - Heckingbottom last night welcomed the news that midfielder Ben Osborn is expecting the all-clear to resume training shortly. However Enda Stevens, another veteran of United’s last promotion, is only making slow progress in his battle to overcome a knock.

“Ben won’t be fit to play (against Swansea) but he should be back out on the grass properly pretty soon,” Heckingbottom said. “With Enda, it’s proving to be really slow I’m afraid. There’s nothing he or we can do about that because of the nature of the problem. It’s just seeing how he reacts and responds to every rehab session and then we’ll be guided by that. It could be soon, it might not be.”