Rookie goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell gets the chance to stake his claim for a new Sheffield Wednesday contract today in front of a live European audience.
The 23-year-old Sheffield-born goalkeeper makes a rare start in today’s FA Cup second-round match against Aldershot. He has only started 13 games for the Owls in over five years at Hillsborough, but eight of them have come this season.
And with the Cup tie being televised live to Spain and Poland – as part of the overseas broadcasting rights deal struck by the Football Association – O’Donnell has the opportunity to impress.
The lifelong Owls fan, who grew up in neighbouring Walkley, plays with regular No 1 Nicky Weaver still to regain full fitness after a long injury lay-off and on-loan Stephen Bywater refused permission to play by parent club Derby County.
“I am out of contract in the summer and that obviously plays a bit on your mind,” said O’Donnell, who starred in the first round at Morecambe. “But all I can do is what I am doing at present and hopefully earn a new contract. It’s the only thing I can do.
“If I play well enough when I do play, then we’ll see what the summer brings.
“Without a doubt I would love to stay at the club, it’s somewhere I have grown up, round here, and I would love to carry on at Hillsborough.
“I am 23 now and have not played many games. An outfield player would have played a lot more games by now, but in general goalkeepers get a longer career so hopefully I can get in the team here in the future and play week-in, week-out.”
O’Donnell – who has had loan spells with York City, Rotherham United, Oldham and Grimsby Town – played in both rounds of the Carling Cup this term for Wednesday, but was taken out of the firing line after conceding five goals at Stevenage.
Not that he was at fault for the defeat, a poor all-round defensive collapse took care of that, but he showed in the televised game at Morecambe last month that he is a goalkeeper with prospects.
“If I get the nod to play it’s another chance for me to get a game under my belt which I am looking forward to,” said O’Donnell, with the only other recognised goalkeeper on the Owls books being fellow youngster Arron Jameson.
“In the cup games I have generally had a chance, and I’m hoping to get a chance and do well again.
“It was a tough game at Morecambe. In the first half I didn’t have much to do, but in the second half after they scored a penalty I had stuff to do.
“Everyone who comes to Hillsborough will be up for the game, we just have to make sure we match them. So far this season we have done that,” he added of the Owls’ 10-game unbeaten home run this campaign.
“The game against Aldershot is a chance for me to come in and show what I can do again. If I do well you don’t know what’s going to happen.
“All I can do is play well and give the gaffer a headache when Nicky Weaver comes back.
“I started on the bench, had a few league games which was good, but Stephen has come in and done brilliant for us. He is a great person to work with, as is Nick (Weaver). Stephen has done brilliant for the club, his experience has been key.
“It’s been up and down this season. I was disappointed to be out of the team, but obviously it was a decision I respected and I am not one of those people to sulk about. I just try to get on with it.
“I got my chance at Morecambe, and took it, and it’s up to me do it again on Saturday if I play.
“It’s a tough position to be in, but you have to be mentally strong to be a goalkeeper. When I get dropped it spurs me on to work even harder.
“When I do get my chance I just need to try and take it.”
With Bywater’s loan up after the December 17 game with Huddersfield Town – and unable to return until the transfer window opens in January – and Weaver short of match fitness, O’Donnell knows he may be set for a run of games over the festive period for the second-placed Owls.
“The Christmas period is a key part of the season, and we are hoping to come out of Christmas still where we are in the league and then obviously push on in the new year,” he said.
“But first things first, it’s the FA Cup, we need to get through that and then look towards the run of games towards Christmas.”
O’Donnell followed his hometown club as a youngster but FA Cup success has been in short supply since the heady days of 1993 when Wednesday reached both the FA Cup and League Cup finals at Wembley.
“I used to watch Wednesday when I was younger, I am a Wednesday fan, but in the memories I have of watching the club there weren’t that many FA Cup runs.
“I remember the Carling Cup when we played Blackburn in the semi-finals, but that was the only cup run I can really remember.
“Wembley ’93 is in the past now, it’s present day and hopefully we can make a little run ourselves now.”