Right back? Midfield? West Ham’s Joey is just happy to be playing

After hardly playing a game for two and a half years, West Ham’s versatility man Joey O’Brien is looking for a run of games in the team

For Joey O’Brien, just stepping out on to the field is an achievement.

The 25-year-old Irishman has been so plagued by a knee injury that he has managed just 12 appearances in the past three years before he stepped out at Upton Park on Sunday for his West Ham debut.

“You may ask me if it is alien for me to be at full back, but really it is more alien to come back and play football at all,” said O’Brien who was given his first chance in professional football at Bolton Wanderers by current West Ham manager Sam Allardyce.

“I am just delighted to be back playing football after two and a half years with the knee problem I had. Once I am out there playing football, wherever I am on the field, you won’t see me complain.”

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O’Brien has worked his way back the hard way. After suffering the injury back in 2008, his long road of rehabilitation took in four games out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday last term, before Bolton finally released him in the summer.

Allardyce was on the case straight away, took him from the beginning of pre-season and the versatile player has proved his fitness and earned himself a contract.

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“I think I’m still a bit off match-wise,” he said. “Towards the end I was feeling it a bit, but I think I just need regular games.

“I haven’t played a lot of games in the last three years really, so if I can get a run in the next five or six weeks, I will feel the better for it.”

He certainly did not look off the pace on Sunday, and even set off on a first-half gallop down the right wing which ended with him pulling the ball back for Freddie Sears for what should have been the opening goal.

So is he worried about playing at right back? Not a bit of it.

“When I was a young kid at Bolton I started in the middle and I made my debut as a midfielder under Sam,” he revealed. “But I think what happened there was the right back got injured and so I ended up playing there and must have played 20 or 25 games at right back, so I have played there.”

O’Brien certainly enjoyed his debut, though naturally not the result which he felt was a harsh one on the Hammers.

“The crowd was fantastic. I’ve always loved coming here with Bolton, listening to the fans on the way out. I thought they were really good for us today,” said O’Brien.

“I think we had enough chances to win two or three games, but we committed the cardinal sin at the back of letting them score with what was only their first or second cha-nce of the match.

“It was a killer blow for the whole team.

“We should have got a minimum of a point from the way that we played, but it was not to be, but the performance was really good I thought.”

O’Brien concedes that the pressure is on West Ham to succeed this season, but he also emphasises that everybody is so keen to get one over on the Hammers.

“When teams play against West Ham they are all up for it,” he said. “You could see when Cardiff scored, the way they celebrated was as if they had won the league!

“That’s the way it is going to be with teams this season, especially when they come to Upton Park, they really want to take the scalp of West Ham United. As a football team we know that as well as anyone, so we have to start getting points on the board.”

O’Brien is confident that they will do just that and cites new captain and his former Bolton team-mate Kevin Nolan as the inspiration for this campaign.

“Some of our players haven’t been in this situation, but when you look at Kevin Nolan, he had exactly the same situation with Newcastle and they went up,” said O’Brien.

“He knows this level and what it takes to get promoted and so hopefully he can lead us up which I’m sure he will.”

Some footballers may be considered complacent, but not O’Brien, he really is just grateful to be able to play the game once more.

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