BLACKBURN Rovers starlet Jack O’Connell can make the breakthrough into Gary Bowyer’s first-team squad next season.

That is the verdict of former Rovers defender Keith Hill who has taken the 20-year-old centre-back under his wing at Rochdale this season.

Hill would love to sign O’Connell, who played a key role in Dale’s promotion to League One, for a second year on loan.

But he believes the England U19 captain has the ability to force into way into Rovers boss Bowyer’s plans.

“Jack’s a magnificent character and I cannot give him enough superlatives or accolades,” said Hill, who is the first manager in Rochdale’s history to win two promotions.

“There’s a real talent there and I do wish I could keep him for next season and the season beyond that because I think he’s an excellent player who has been magnificent for me.

“I do believe Jack is capable of playing for Blackburn and it might be that he is at the right age and the right time to really make a go of it next season with Gary.

“But if not I’d be picking up the phone straight away because I’d 100 per cent like to retain him.

“Gary’s been really, really kind to me in allowing me to have Jack – and Jack has been special for me.”

O’Connell, who has been offered a new contract by Rovers, made 45 appearances in all competitions as Dale finished third in League Two.

And at one stage during the campaign the Liverpudlian was even handed the captaincy.

Hill admits it is rare for that to happen to a young player on loan.

But he had no hesitation in offering O’Connell, whose England U19s team-mates included Everton’s World Cup hopeful John Stones, the armband.

“He deserved it,” said Hill, who was part of the Rovers squad which won promotion to the Premier League in 1992.

“His performances have been better than his age and his experience in the game and I had absolutely no fear in making him captain.

“I believe he knows the game in his brain, which is unique for somebody so young.

“That’s why it was an easy decision for me to make a 19-year-old my captain – and it was a decision respected by all the team.

“All the players knew where I was coming from, they respected him.