PROMISING centre back Jack O’Connell is determined to follow in the footsteps of Grant Hanley and break into the Blackburn Rovers first team.
Skipper Hanley, 22, rose through the ranks at Ewood Park before establishing himself in the heart of the Rovers defence.
Now fellow academy graduate O’Connell, who was on target in Saturday’s pre-season opener at AFC Telford United, has made it his mission to follow suit.
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The 20-year-old is yet to make his first senior appearance for Rovers.
But after a highly successful season on loan at Rochdale, where he played an integral role in helping Keith Hill’s side win promotion, he was handed a new two-year deal by Gary Bowyer.
And now O’Connell is intent on showing the Rovers boss he is ready to push senior trio Hanley, Matt Kilgallon and Alex Baptiste for a place in his starting line-up.
“Grant is a great player and someone I can look up to,” said O’Connell, whose smartly taken header rounded off the scoring in the 4-0 win at non-league Telford.
“I can see what he has achieved and I want to achieve that as well.
“I’m made-up to get a two-year contract and hopefully I can crack on now and play for Blackburn’s first team.
“That’s always been my aim and I wouldn’t have committed to the club if I didn’t think I had a chance.
“I want to play and not just make up the numbers.”
O’Connell, who is part of the 27-man Rovers squad currently undergoing warm-weather training in Portugal, certainly did not make up the numbers last season.
The England U19s international played 45 times as Rochdale, managed by former Rovers defender Hill, finished third in League Two.
And having had a taste of ‘men’s football’ the Liverpudlian does not want to go back to playing for the U21s.
“It’s just totally different,” said O’Connell. “When I play reserve football I don’t get nervous but in men’s football, when you can hear the fans screaming, it just means that extra bit more.
“Getting into the first team and playing every week on a Saturday, the buzz is unreal.
“Getting success with Rochdale just gave me that extra buzz to want to do well and with Blackburn hopefully pushing for promotion to the Premier League, hopefully I can be involved in that.”
Hill, who was part of the Rovers squad which won promotion to the Premier League in 1992, made O’Connell his captain at Spotland and believes he has the potential to become a regular for his old club.
And O’Connell said: “Keith’s been a big part of my career, especially when he gave me the armband.
“He showed faith in me and hopefully I repaid him with my performances.”