YOUNG centre-half Mark O’Brien has got a ringing endorsement from manager Nigel Clough.
The 20-year-old has been in good form since returning to the Rams side following a knee injury.
And Clough reckons the Irishman is as good as any of the club’s talented crop of youngsters — with just his position in the team keeping him under the radar.
“Mark’s got as much promise as any of the other youngsters,” said the Rams boss.
“It’s because he’s a centre-half and not a midfielder like Will Hughes or Jeff Hendrick — or a striker like Mason Bennett — that he doesn’t get as much attention.”
O’Brien has had a hard time with illness and injury in his fledgling career.
He had a heart operation, suffered a serious ankle injury and then tore his cruciate knee ligaments just over a year ago.
“He just bounces back,” said Clough, who is short of centre-halves with Shaun Barker out long-term and ex-Burton Albion man Jake Buxton three weeks away from fitness.
“Mark seems to face every little challenge in his life with a great attitude.
“He’ll get through everything and be fine.
“He hadn’t played for 13 months until last month so it’s great he got a run of games.”
Buxton looks set to miss the next two matches with medial ligament damage, but there is better news on Jamie Ward.
The 26-year-old striker played an hour for Derby in a 9-1 friendly win over Burton on Tuesday and completed a full training session yesterday.
“There’ve been no ill effects so far,” said Clough. “We’ll see how he reacts in the next 24 hours.
“He did 65 minutes and then a good training session.
“We’ll keep assessing him until Saturday.”
Ward himself is itching to get back on the pitch — and is symbolic of a new breed of player at the club that hates to be stuck in the treatment room.
“We’ve got to err on the side of caution with him because he’s been out for so long,” said Clough.
“But in the game he was asking to stay on for another 10 minutes and the training yesterday was optional — but he insisted on taking part.
“He can’t wait to get back and make up for the last three months.
“It’s been a long time (when you think he last played against Forest).
“There’s three months between the two fixtures and if he’s not available this week, we hope he’ll be available for Forest.”