Sheffield United v Norwich City: A match made in heaven for Blades’ O’Connell

Jack O'Connell, right, celebrates with Billy Sharp and John Fleck after Sheffield United defetead Derby County. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
Jack O'Connell, right, celebrates with Billy Sharp and John Fleck after Sheffield United defetead Derby County. (Picture: Simon Bellis/Sportimage)
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FETED in song for his uncomplicated defensive style he may be, but Jack O’Connell’s approach to his craft does possess its studious side.

As a Liverpudlian and lifelong Red, it should also come as no surprise that the Sheffield United centre-half is thoroughly devoted and fanatical about his football and discussions about it are never too far away in his home life either.

O’Connell’s girlfriend is Liverpool and England defender Alex Greenwood and it does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that the beautiful game is a leading topic of conversation between the two.

When it comes to defending, it is fair to say that O’Connell is more Anfield Iron than Jockey Hansen. But he is also a bit of a connoisseur regarding his position too.

An avid Liverpool fan he may be – so much so that he and Blades team-mate Mark Duffy both attended the Reds’ opening Champions’ League group game with Seville at Anfield on Wednesday night – but O’Connell, when pushed, admits that his current favourite Premier League defenders both wear the white shirt of Tottenham Hotspur in Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

As someone who cannot get enough of watching football when it is on the television, O’Connell’s appreciation and acknowledgement of good defenders has a broader database too.

England women's Alex Greenwood during a training session at Sporting 70 Sports Centre, Utrecht. during the European Championships (Picture: PA)

England women's Alex Greenwood during a training session at Sporting 70 Sports Centre, Utrecht. during the European Championships (Picture: PA)

O’Connell said: “She (Greenwood) doesn’t like talking about football as much as I do.

“But if there is any game on, whether it is Italian, Spanish or even American, I will still watch it.

“I enjoy watching all games, you can learn from watching.

“I am a Red and me and Duffy were at the match on Wednesday night.

She will give me constructive criticism about my game, like my brothers do. She will come down and watch my game after training and if we are off Sundays, I can go and watch her’s.

Sheffield United’s Jack O’Connell

“Sometimes, the fans just want foreign defenders to play forward and sometimes, they play backwards and they get a bit agitated.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with just putting it in the stands every now and again.”

As to whether there is much banter between him and his partner regarding their own defensive merits or otherwise, O’Connell is a touch more circumspect.

Although he admits that his ‘other half’ is well versed regarding the ‘Magic Hat’ song which Unitedites regularly give an airing or two on a match-day.

He added: “My missus does know it. She hasn’t got one (a song).

“She will give me constructive criticism about my game, like my brothers do.

“She will come down and watch my game after training and if we are off Sundays, I can go and watch her’s.

“They play at Widnes and it is not the best as it’s a 3G pitch.”

While Greenwood is preparing for the start of the new FA Women’s Super League 1 season with Liverpool later this month, O’Connell is over a month into his seasonal commitments with the Blades and it has been a memorable opening to the new campaign.

He and his team-mates have hit the ground running and while he is the first to acknowledge the nature of the challenges ahead, he sees no reason why the Blades cannot turn a very accomplished start to the campaign into a thoroughly majestic one.

On the opening for the Blades, seeking a fifth successive victory at this level today for the first time since April 2009, O’Connell said: “We have got a winning mentality at the minute, obviously coming off the back of last season.

“We are going into every game thinking we can win.

“We have just got to keep working hard. With the attitude and tempo we play at, I don’t see why we cannot go again and win.

“We know that there will be tough tests ahead.

“But we have just carried on from last season and set the standard in the (Derby) game. We were good on the ball and did not give them much room and I think we can do the same to Norwich and make it uncomfortable for them.”

The jury may have been out at the start of the season as to whether several of United’s promotion heroes – many of whom have played most of their careers in the lower leagues – would cut it in the relentless Championship.

But if the early evidence is anything to go by, they have proved that they certainly belong at this level, having taken to their new surroundings with proficiency. And a bit more besides.

Emblematic of that fact is O’Connell’s defensive cohort Jake Wright and after displaying leadership with the likes of Oxford and Halifax, the 31-year-old is stepping up to the Championship with similar character and aplomb, according to O’Connell.

He said: “Wrighty knows how we play and he is unbelievable. He has carried on from what he was doing last season and his record is unbelievable. I don’t think he has been beaten in the league (with the Blades).

“He has got something to prove, hasn’t he. Like all of us, to be fair. It didn’t work out for me at Brentford, so I have something to prove. Wrighty is a very good defender and definitely good enough for the Championship. We knew last year that if we got promoted, we would have a good chance of doing well and we have started well and hopefully we can carry it on. We did not really know what to expect in terms of quality and things like that.

“It is a big step-up, but I think we have settled in fine and I think we will do well this season if we can continue doing what we have done.

“I just need to keep playing the way I have. I think I have started well this season. I think I had a good season last season and I just wanted to carry it on in the Championship and I think I have done that.”