DAVID SMITH - Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Finally cleared to begin his first season in Denmark's Superliga, Conor O'Brien is confident he and his new SønderjyskE teammates have the talent and discipline to compete at Denmark's highest level.
SønderjyskE is just entering their fourth straight season in the top flight, and with an improving standing in each of the previous three, O'Brien feels that a tendency for the team to be underestimated give them the perfect opportunity to be a surprise in the league.
"A lot of people say that SønderjyskE is just a team which is fighting to stay in the Superliga and to not be relegated, but if you look at them last season they were all the way up in seventh place," O'Brien notes.
"If things start clicking for us, then anything can happen. I'd love to say that we'll be up at the top of the standings but you never know. At the beginning you are just concentrating on trying to play well, hoping things work out and getting points."
The Bucknell graduate is no stranger to contriving to deliver the unforeseen, after entering Danish third tier team Blokhus one year ago as a relatively unheralded trialist then proceeding to put together a remarkable campaign that earned him an invitation to jump two divisions onto the roster of Denmark's southernmost team.
"To be honest I always felt like I had the ability to play in the Superliga, and already felt like that even when I came over last summer," he admits of his confidence to adjust to the higher level of play which he will be facing.
"When I first trialed with Vejle, who is not in the Superliga but competes for [promotion to] it every year, I felt like I was just as good as all those players and could really handle myself around them," he continues. "So when I got the chance to trial with SønderjyskE, I was definitely full of confidence and knew that it was a good opportunity for me."
While his flexibility to play in a variety of midfield positions is a strength which benefited both the New York native and his former team, the coaches at SønderjyskE have made it clear they plan to focus in on the more attacking aspects of his game, which helped him to net a total haul of 13 goals for Blokhus last season.
"At SønderjyskE they definitely see me more as an attacking central midfielder," he states. "Obviously there is still a whole season where I've got to prove myself and earn playing time, so I'm not going to try to say whether I'll be in the starting lineup or not since it could change every day."
"However I definitely feel like they have confidence in me to try to earn some time at the attacking midfield spot. I'm hoping that I can do so as well because I think I can bring a lot to this team."
The system under new head coach Lars Søndergaard and assistant Peter Enevoldsen - who was well familiar with O'Brien after having coached competing Second Division team Thisted FC last season - is one which the 22 year-old feels well suited and prepared for.
"To be honest, I think it's a good fit for me because it's similar to the way Bucknell used to play," he assesses of the team's on-field approach. "We play a 4-2-3-1 and we try to be very compact and sound defensively."
"The defense is definitely the major aspect of the team," he continues. "But we're able to play very quickly on the counter-attack and catch teams off-guard when they are trying to attack us."
O'Brien was forced to watch his team's first two games from the stands as he awaited clearance of his Danish work permit, but was finally able to suit up for their latest game over the weekend, a 1-1 draw at Silkeborg for which he was an unused substitute.
With SønderjyskE holding seventh-place standing and the league's second-best defense through their first three games, O'Brien will have the next chance for a debut with his new team on Saturday afternoon when they host recently-promoted AGF Aarhus.