Burton Albion boss Gary Rowett reckons Anthony O’Connor could cut it in the Championship – if he gets an opportunity to show what he can do.
The 20-year-old defender has made a big impact since arriving on loan from Blackburn Rovers at the start of the season, helping the club stay in the League Two promotion race.
He is the only remaining ever-present in the league for the high-flying Brewers and Rowett thinks he could have a big future in the game.
“Anthony’s done brilliantly,” said the Albion boss. “He’s a great lad and we all love the winning mentality he’s got.
“I think he’s got the character and the ability to do it (make it at Championship level).
“The only thing for him is that Blackburn have got great resources to bring in players in his position who already play at that level, or higher.
“He’ll have that thirst to play after a full season of senior football at League Two level.”
O’Connor, rated by many Albion fans as one of the best loan signings the club has ever made, has turned out for the Brewers at right-back, but is really more comfortable at centre-half, something Rowett thinks needs to be taken into consideration.
“We’ve got to remember he’s really a centre-half by trade,” he said. “The challenge is for him to go back to Blackburn as a centre-back and kick on from there.
“Playing at centre-back in the Championship is a totally different beast.
“This year will only help him though.
“He’s got so much desire – it’s hard to find a defender who loves a one-on-one. He just sees it as a massive challenge.
“That’s almost when he’s been at his most comfortable.
“He’s got forward more in recent games, too.
“That’s often the hardest thing for someone who’s really a centre-half to do as it doesn’t always come naturally.”
Blackburn coach Colin Hendry was at Saturday’s 4-0 win for Burton at Fleetwood Town, with O’Connor outstanding on the day as part of a solid back four unit with Ian Sharps, Marcus Holness and Damien McCrory.
A permanent deal to sign the young Irishman is highly unlikely given the player’s ambitions and growing reputation in the game, but a future loan move back to the Pirelli should not be ruled out given the size of Blackburn’s first-team squad.
“It feels like he’s on a one-year contract,” said Rowett. “The only shame is we’ve got no right to offer him another one at the end of it.
“If I could make it permanent, I would.”