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West Ham defender is delighted to be back at the top again

West Ham United's Joey O'Brien and Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park, London. West Ham United's Joey O'Brien and Sunderland's Stephane Sessegnon battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park, London.

Monday, September 24, 2012
5:00 PM

Hammers defender Joey O’Brien could be a real inspiration to Jack Collison after clawing his way back from a career-threatening knee injury

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When young midfielder Jack Collison contemplates the tough battle he faces to recover from his knee injury, he might do well to look at the career of his West Ham team-mate Joey O’Brien.

The Ireland international had almost three complete seasons wiped from his career at Bolton because of a knee injury before eventually being released from the Reebok, when it seemed his career may well be over.

But after Hammers boss Sam Allardyce gambled on bringing him to Upton Park he hasn’t looked back. He played a vital part in last season’s promotion, despite missing the finale because of injury and now he has taken his place back in the Premier League.

It has been a long road, but O’Brien is still only 26!

“The injury is sorted,” he said. “It has been a long time since the last operation on my knee and I think the main thing with long-term injuries is just about playing as many times as you can and in the end the pain just goes.

“It is obviously something I still manage every day in training with the staff here, but it is just great to be back and playing. It is amazing to be at the top again.”

Many were surprised when Allardyce replaced George McCartney after a disappointing performance at Swansea City to draft in O’Brien at left back, but it is a move that seems to have paid off.

“Left back is something different, but I am just really enjoying playing,” said O’Brien, who has also returned to the Ireland squad this season.

“Already this season I have played left back, right back and centre half, but it is good, you find something new about your game and try to improve it.

“I’ve been working very hard on my left foot in training every day, because I know I will be playing more with it.”

There have been one or two shaky moments in the left back slot since he was drafted in, but as the player points out, the results speak for themselves.

“Obviously it is up to the manager, but we had a clean sheet against Fulham and we had a clean sheet at Norwich, so I suppose in that way the back four have done well and it is hard to change it around.”

That is certainly true, though it was a defensive mistake that allowed Sunderland their goal at Upton Park in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.

“I think ‘Ginge’ (James Collins) will say that he has made a mistake, but saying that he does have that in his game and 99 times out of 100, it would have worked, but he didn’t quite connect with it today and obviously it has got punished,” reflected O’Brien.

“That is what happens at this level. Last year in the Championship we might have got away with that, but at this level we are going to get punished.”

However, O’Brien was quick to point out that this was still a good, battling performance from the Hammers.

“We were knocking on the door all afternoon really and if we hadn’t got the draw I think we would have been hard done by,” he insisted.

“I think we dominated the game from start to finish and it was good to come back. I think last season there were not many games when we came back from behind so to get that one in the last minute gives the boys a bit of a lift as well.”

Saturday’s draw made it eight points for the season, so is that the sort of opening that O’Brien was looking for?

“It is a good start,” he said. “If we had won today, it would have been a great start I think, so in that way I guess it is disappointing.

“I think in all the games we have played this season we haven’t looked like a team that has just come out of the Championship through the play-offs, so this is a good start to take forward,” he said.

“We have a massive game next up at QPR and if we can do the business against them away from home then it will be a great start.”

It certainly will and the Irishman has definitely played his part along the way.

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