Resilient Mark O'Brien is one of Derby County's unsung young guns - Nigel Clough
DEFENDER Mark O'Brien has as much promise as any of Derby County's talented youngsters, according to manager Nigel Clough.
Academy products Will Hughes, Jeff Hendrick and Mason Bennett have stolen the headlines this season.
Seventeen-year-old Hughes is attracting interest from a number of big clubs in the Premier League, while his partner in central midfield, 20-year-old Hendrick, is in fine form following a struggle earlier this season.
Bennett, only 16, made the news last Saturday when he became Derby's youngest-ever scorer in the FA Cup victory over Tranmere Rovers.
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But Clough says the progress of O'Brien should not be overlooked.
The 20-year-old centre-back, another product of the Academy, made his fourth start of the season against Tranmere and is set to keep his place for today's Championship clash with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.
He is back in action following a serious knee injury that sidelined him for virtually a year and Clough has been pleased with the player's form.
"Mark's got as much promise as any of the other youngsters," said Clough.
"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 tough time with illness and injury. At 17, he underwent a heart operation to repair a faulty valve.
"Mark just bounces back," said Clough. "He has faced his challenges with a great attitude.
"He hadn't played for 13 months until last month and he is getting through games."
O'Brien does not look beyond the next game.
"Playing in the first team means everything," he said.
"I'm just taking each game as it comes. I am not going to get carried away.
"Each game I play I feel I am getting fitter and stronger. Hopefully, if I play well, I can keep my place. I can't take my foot off the pedal.
"I have had my knee injury and my heart problems and the manager has stuck by me through it all.
"He has given me time to get back fit and time to improve. Every time you play, you try and give 100% because the manager stands by you through everything."
Derby County will face Manchester City at home in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup if they beat Ipswich Town in a fourth round tie at Pride Park Stadium later this month. The Rams face Ipswich on Wednesday, January 23 (7pm).