Sunderland favourite Luke O'Nien opens up on the 'heart-to-heart' that rescued his Wearside career

Luke O'Nien has opened up on the conversation that led to him becoming a mainstay in the Sunderland side that could yet seal a place in the Championship play-offs next week.
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O'Nien has recounted his journey on Wearside in an interview with the club and reflected on a heart-to-heart with John Potter, who worked as a first-team coach during Jack Ross' tenure.

After being replaced at half time in the opening game of the League One era against Charlton Athletic, O'Nien struggled to force his way into the team following a summer switch from Wycombe Wanderers.

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The nadir was a behind-closed-doors game at the Academy of Light, after which Potter urged O'Nien to get back to his own way of playing.

The 28-year-old says he never looked back, eventually returning as the combative, versatile operator who has been an integral part of the club's rebirth.

"I didn't play for about four months, couldn't get in the team," O'Nien said.

"I remember sitting in here [Academy of Light], John Potter who was first-team coach at the time just sat me down and said, 'Luke, what's going on? It was the conversation that changed everything for me'.

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"He was like, 'you're trying to be someone you're not'. There was so much quality around that I think I was trying to be like everyone else, and forgot I was. He recognised that after a friendly behind-closed-doors, and we had a good heart-to-heart for half an hour.

Luke O'Nien celebrates scoring in the FA Cup earlier this seasonLuke O'Nien celebrates scoring in the FA Cup earlier this season
Luke O'Nien celebrates scoring in the FA Cup earlier this season

"From the next day in training I just remembered to do what I do best."

O'Nien would eventually find his way into a regular place in the side as a defender, but it was an impact substitute that had made his first impression in a red-and-white shirt, scoring a crucial late goal from the bench against Shrewsbury Town.

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That goal was the product of hours of work behind the scenes with then goalkeeper coach Jimmy Walker, although O'Nien has admitted that it was an afternoon where a good deal of fortune was on his side.

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"I spent hours in here [Academy of Light barn] with the goalkeeper coach when I wasn't in the team, I wasn't playing so we were trying to work on every part of the game possible," he said.

"When the time did come, I wanted to be ready and the work paid off when I got my first goal away at Shrewsbury - a moment I'll never forget.

"It was funny how it panned out though because I was doing way too many hours in here, and so when I came on I was shattered.

"My first touch was so heavy that it went about 15 yards, so the next touch was a tackle! That set Goochy up and he played me in, I've gone to bury it bottom-left corner and I've shanked it straight in the bottom-right corner!You can see in my face the elation and the relief, that was the start of my Sunderland career."

O'Nien is expected to start again at the heart of defence for Sunderland's must-win clash with Preston North End on Monday.