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Team still the priority for Luke O'Nien despite achieving the dream of making his Watford debut
An academy graduate making his debut is always a moment which is relished by club staff, supporters and often the local media. But it could be argued that the introduction of Luke O'Nien on Saturday was welcomed more enthusiastically than most.
O'Nien's attitude has impressed his team-mates and coaching staff since he became a professional last summer.
Head coach Beppe Sannino has described O'Nien as a player who is the epitome of what he wants from his squad in terms of being passionate about the club and their job.
O'Nien is always doing extra training and his professionalism has been first class, to the point that a new contract seems inevitable before his current deal expires in the summer.
Watford have a proud record of producing home-grown players; O'Nien became the 54th graduate to make his debut since academy status was achieved in 1998.
But it is becoming increasingly difficult for young Hornets to make their mark due to the vast number of signings made in the last two seasons and the calibre of players who have arrived.
So whilst he was only on the pitch for a few minutes at the weekend, O'Nien has done incredibly well to achieve his dream of making his professional debut.
The 19-year-old may not have touched the ball when he came on but he worked tirelessly and left his mark on one of the Barnsley defenders.
It says a lot about the player and his attitude that he was reluctant to discuss his own emotions immediately after the game and was more focussed on the team's result.
"I am delighted. The team also got a deserved three points so I’m really pleased about that," O’Nien said.
"It is fantastic to get on the pitch and I have a lot of people that I need to thank for helping make it happen – but I won’t because we will be here for hours.
"But the most important aspect is that we got the three points. That is what I am most happy about."
Making your professional debut is a lifetime's work coming to fruition, so was he nervous when waiting on the sidelines?
"We train every day and have a structure so it was just a case of playing like normal," O’Nien replied.
"I wasn’t nervous because when you get on the pitch, you have to be focussed on doing your best for the team."
O'Nien has "loved every second" of being a professional footballer and had been an unused substitute on seven other occasions.
Sannino has previously said it would be "a dream come true" to hand O'Nien his debut but on Saturday stressed: "I don't like to throw young players on the pitch and expose them to trouble. For Luke it will be a good day because he made his debut. But don't ask me if and when he will play again."
The youngster from Hemel Hempstead, who joined Watford at under-9 level, is regularly seen doing his own training after team sessions have finished.
"I just love being out there [on the training pitch]," O'Nien said. "I have a couple of players who have been joining me recently – Ikechi Anya and Tommie Hoban have been joining me recently – and we have a great time out there; learning and improving every day, which is important."
O'Nien was a creative midfielder at youth level, has spent much of this season playing at centre back and came on up front at the weekend. As you would expect, he is happy to play wherever he is asked.
He claims he is not concerned by his contract being up in the summer, adding: "All I can focus on is working hard every day and that [the contract] is up to the club. I am just focussing on enjoying my football."
He continued: "The most important aspect is not to look too far ahead. We have training tomorrow (Sunday) so I will be focussed on that to make myself a better player."
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