SAFETY first might be one of the basic rules of defending.
But for James O’Connor it’s more than that - it’s an entire way of thinking!
The no-nonsense defender wholeheartedly refuses to talk about Doncaster Rovers challenging for promotion to the Premier League.
O’Connor, one of Rovers’ most versatile and consistent performers in recent seasons, was a picture of frustration and anger after Saturday’s calamitous 3-0 home defeat to Reading.
But, despite the Royals’ visit putting a serious dent in Doncaster’s play-off ambitions, the down-to-earth 26-year-old has not lost sight of what he sees as the club’s first priority - survival.
“My own view, although it’s a bit boring, is that we need to get to that 55-point mark as quickly as possible,” said O’Connor.
“That’s always been my aim since we got into the Championship and it’s no different this season.
“There’s been a bit of talk about challenging for the play-offs but that’s something I’m not even thinking about.
“That’s just the way I am.
“If you can get to 55 points by January or February time then you’re obviously doing really well and you can kick on from there.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a pessimist but I’d rather look at it that way!
“Everyone has their own drives and that is what happens to drive me on.”
O’Connor played some of the best football of his Doncaster career last season when he switched from right back to centre back.
He’s less likely to be the man in the middle for the remainder of this campaign after Rovers last week pulled off the impressive loan signing of Sunderland defender Matt Kilgallon - who made a solid debut on an otherwise forgettable afternoon against Reading.
O’Connor, however, is delighted to see Doncaster continuing to recruit genuine quality.
And he says that with Kilgallon on board, the team’s defending can only get better over the coming months.
He said: “It was a bit like one step forward and two back for us at the weekend.
“There was a bit of a buzz about the place with Matt coming in but then we let ourselves down with the performance.
“It was a disappointing start for Matt in terms of the result but I thought he played really well.
“As a defensive unit we’re a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll all get better the more we play together.
“I think it’ll help to get a settled back four which isn’t something we’ve had at all this season.
“That’s not an excuse - it’s a fact.
“Hopefully if we get that then things will start to improve.
“I’d like to think Matt will come in and make a difference.
“From what I’ve heard he’s a top quality player and you don’t get a move to the Premier League without being exactly that.
“I’m sure he’ll be a great addition to the squad and hopefully he can help us reach those 55 points as quickly as possible.”
O’Connor, whose foraging forward runs from wing back caught the eye on Saturday, could only look on in dismay as his side conceded three of the softest goals you could ever imagine against the Royals.
And the defender admitted that a few home truths were shared in the dressing room afterwards.
“We were obviously really disappointed with the performance.
“You’ve got to give some credit to Reading because I thought they were solid and their two centre halves played really well for them.
“But we can’t give three goals away like we did at this level.
“That’s what cost us.
“A few harsh words were said after the game and we won’t just brush what happened under the carpet.
“We didn’t play well but if we had defended correctly we might’ve come away with a point.
“But all three goals were really poor from our point of view.
“We played three at the back so we shouldn’t have got done with a long ball which happened for the first goal.
“The second one we’ve been really naive and got caught upfield and left ourselves one on one at the back - and the third was just a calamity.
“Reading are a really well organised side and they had good attacking players - especially Shane Long who’s a player I rate highly - but we’ve got to be better than what we were.
“We’ll sit down this week and look at why things went wrong and try and put them right,” he added.
“There’s a lot of games coming up over the next few weeks and it’s a great chance to make amends for what happened on Saturday and get on a bit of a run.
“The next home game’s a local derby agaisnt Barnsley so that’s the perfect game to make it up to our fans as a team.
“As an individual I really enjoyed myself last season and I’ve probably not quite hit those heights in terms of my own level of performance.
“That’s something I’ll be looking to do in the second half of the season.”