Luke O'Nien opens up on a 'weird' summer, the key role of Lee Johnson in contract talks and his latest Sunderland honour
Luke O’Nien says he is ‘desperate’ to reach the Championship with Sunderland – after turning down the chance to move to the second tier this summer.
O’Nien signed a new three-year contract with the Black Cats this summer, despite interest from the likes of Hull and Peterborough.
And the midfielder admits it was a strange summer as he weighed-up his future, but he soon realised that all signs pointed to Wearside.
That, coupled with a desire to repay the faith shown in him by club and fanbase alike, made the ultimate decision a straightforward one.
“It was a weird off season for me, but everything gravitated me back towards here,” admitted O’Nien.
"I didn't want to leave and I'm just desperate to play in the Championship with this club.
"They gave me a lot of time to settle here and I think I owe them to continue to give my all for the club, to get us in the Championship and keep building.
"I think I made it clear in interviews that there were options,” he added.
"My head kind of wanted to take me there [the Championship], but my heart just kept bringing me back here.
"You just have to look at the crowds we bring in, Lincoln at home, and the excitement it brings. The history of the club is something that I wanted to continue to play for, and I will continue to give my all for the club.
"Like I said, I thank the gaffer, the club and the fans for continuing their faith in me and hopefully I can repay them this year with some good performances.”
O’Nien was in regular dialogue with Lee Johnson over the summer, and the head coach played a key role in keeping the 26-year-old at the Stadium of Light.
His desire to keep on improving the midfielder an individual – and a desire of achieving promotion – proved a convincing combination.
"I sat down with the gaffer and he's one of the big reasons I stayed - his attention to detail and the way he can improve every individual,” explained O’Nien.
"I think it's exciting and with him and his staff I think I can really develop and I'm looking forward to it.
"Speaking to the gaffer and everyone, the direction is promotion,” he continued.
"The last few seasons we haven't quite got it. Football isn't as simple as we'd all like it to be, so we learn from the last few seasons.
"We get better and we lay stronger foundations so that when we do go up, we don't come back down again.
"Everyone knows Sunderland is a sleeping giant and it's just a matter of time. Now it's time for the gaffer, the staff and this group of players to make sure that time is now.”
Johnson’s faith in O’Nien was underlined by handing the former Wycombe man the captain’s armband at Harrogate.
Pre-season or not, it’s an honour that isn’t lost on the fan favourite.
"It doesn't matter if it's a pre-season game, wearing the armband is wearing the armband.
"If you told me four or five years ago that I would be having the armband on at Sunderland then I would have snapped your hand off for it.
"It's an honour to wear it.”