'I don’t want to sit on the bench': Aiden O’Brien opens up on his role at Sunderland, performance at Blackpool and this season's target
Aiden O’Brien gave an honest and refreshing interview following what was by far his most impressive performance in a Sunderland shirt.
The 27-year-old forward had just scored a stoppage-time winner to complete his hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Blackpool in the Carabao Cup. Not bad for a player who had started four consecutive league games on the bench this season, playing just 34 minutes in total.
So when asked the obvious question about his lack of game time, O’Brien was honest but respectful about the situation.
The forward had a beaming smile on his face when he re-emerged from the Bloomfield Road tunnel to speak to the media after the game, but was also serious about his own aspirations.
“Listen you have to respect the team that is playing,” said O’Brien when discussing this season’s personal challenges. “We are all in it together but I’m a professional player and am eager to play. That’s what I’m here for and have worked all my life to do.
“I don’t want to sit on the bench, I don’t think anyone wants to sit on the bench and I’m itching to get on every game because I know I can make a difference. I believe in myself and tonight I have shown that.
“Hopefully I can start getting a few more minutes now and I just want to keep scoring and helping the team as much as I can.”
The forward has had personal conversations with Sunderland boss Lee Johnson, but insists he will continue to support his team-mates regardless of his individual circumstances.
“We’ve had a few chats and obviously it's confidential,” O’Brien told the Echo when asked about his conversations with Johnson. “We’ve had professional chats man to man and had a few discussions.
“We’ve made the situation easy. I’m supporting the team every week whether I play or not, I’m not the type of person who will throw their toys out of the pram and I’ll always remain professional and wait.
“Tonight is a night for celebration really because the last two games I haven’t played and tonight I got a hat-trick. That just shows that football can change really fast.
“Who knows what can happen in the next game and games after. It’s a long season.”
Instead, O’Brien has continued to work hard in training during his spell out of the side and got his reward at Bloomfield Road.
“I’ve literally been staying as sharp as I can,” he added. “Enjoying it, smiling. We play football at the end of the day, for me it’s the best job in the world and I love it.
“For me to go into training with a sad face being upset doesn’t really make sense because as much as you want to play you still need to realise where you are and what job you are doing.
“Look at it tonight, I could have been down for two days, not trained properly, thrown my toys out of the pram. Would I have got a hat-trick tonight? Probably not. Because I have done it right I can say I’ve deserved that really.”
One of the challenges the forward faces as he tries to nail down a first-team place at Sunderland is that Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch have become regular starters on the flanks.
O’Brien can also play as an advanced playmaker and a central striker, as he did against Port Vale in the first round of the Carabao Cup, yet Elliot Embleton and Ross Stewart have both started the season strongly.
Still, O’Brien’s versatility and attacking instincts are still likely to be a big asset for Johnson this season.
“I’ll play all over,” O’Brien replied as he discussed his role in the side. “I just like to get the ball, try and make things happen and score goals.
“I just want to float all around in their half, left, right centre, midfield even. I just like to cause a problem for the opposition and not kind of be rigid.”
O’Brien’s ambition was clear to see as he spoke at the side of the Bloomfield Road pitch, and when asked if he sets targets at the start of a season, he replied: “I always try and set double figures but it obviously depends on game time and minutes.
"I will always try and get double figures every season, especially in this league I feel I’m capable of that.”
Following his hat-trick against Blackpool and converted penalty at Port Vale, O’Brien is almost halfway to his pre-season goal.
The forward’s third at Bloomfield Road, which marked his first hat-trick for Sunderland, will surely live long in the memory as he checked to see if he was onside before running towards the jubilant away supporters in stoppage-time.
“You can see for yourself how much it means to the players to have the fans back,” said O’Brien as he pointed to the now empty away end, which had erupted with noise around 20 minutes earlier.
"The last goal in the last minute and the fans, look how many there were, it was just absolutely brilliant and we’ve all missed that and we just can’t wait to kick on to the next game.
" I can actually see them now, the way they were screaming and jumping.
“It was absolutely crazy, a last-minute winner away from home in the cup. That is what it’s all about football and I want to see another one of them.”