Aiden O'Brien reveals thoughts on the Sunderland dressing room as forward aims for first-team recall
Aiden O’Brien says it’s been refreshing to see young players take their opportunities at Sunderland this season - even if he’s been frustrated at his lack of individual game time.
The Black Cats made nine new signings over the summer, with seven of them under the age of 24.
Academy graduates such as Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton have also become regular starters for the senior side, helping the team win four of their first five league games this season.
In terms of his own aspirations, O’Brien is yet to start a League One match for Sunderland this season, despite scoring a hat-trick at Blackpool in the Carabao Cup last month.
The 27-year-old was set to sign for Doncaster on transfer deadline day, yet the deal collapsed in the final hour of the window.
Still, O’Brien has vowed to maintain a positive attitude at Sunderland regardless of his game time, and insists he’s been working hard to try and get back in the team.
The forward moved to Wearside just over a year ago and says there is a welcoming atmosphere in the dressing room, which has helped younger players who are joining the club.
“I’m definitely one of the senior lads,” said O’Brien following his hat-trick at Blackpool. “I feel like the younger lads can talk to me, look up to me, have a chat and banter with me.
“You don’t have to take me too seriously, you’re a colleague. I don’t really see you as a young lad who has only just started. I look at everyone the same and respect everyone the same.
“I think that is why we are doing so well because we are not really divided, we are a quite tight-knitted group and no matter the age we are all trying to stick together on the pitch and get everyone over the line together.”
Sunderland’s new signings include 17-year-old Callum Doyle, on loan from Manchester City, and Dennis Cirkin, 19, who have become regular starters in defence since arriving on Wearside.
Other new signings include Niall Huggins, 20, Frederik Alves, 21, Nathan Broadhead, 23, and Alex Pritchard, 28, all of whom started alongside O’Brien at Blackpool, when Sunderland beat the Championship side.
The club’s approach this summer has certainly been different to previous transfer windows, with a clear strategy to try and sign younger players from higher-league clubs.
O’Brien believes the group has a good mix between youth and experience, with competition for places across the pitch.
“I think they have all been brilliant,” O’Brien added when asked about the club’s new signings. “They have all stepped up and I feel like it’s just refreshing. They all want to impress, they all want to get better and it’s about the balance.
“For me personally, I don’t think you can have a full squad of young players, but when you have a balance of senior and young, I think that’s the perfect mix.
“It’s just a great balance and we have senior players and younger players who have performed really well.”