Joe O’Brien-Whitmarsh is the latest talent to emerge from Cork City’s academy. Previously sidelined for 12 months with a knee injury, the 18-year-old has made impressive strides since his return last August, and is now beginning to bed into the senior setup.
The majority of O’Brien-Whitmarsh’s minutes have come as an advanced midfielder, typically lining up as the #10 in a 3-4-1-2. In possession, Cork City’s build-up is often direct, and O’Brien-Whitmarsh consequently takes up high starting positions. He has licence to vary his subsequent movements, displaying promise as an effective off-ball mover.
He closely anticipates openings created by opponents gravitating towards his teammates, and uses this space productively: creating angles between the lines to ease progression, peeling away for knockdowns and attacking gaps on the last line. Positive traits such as exploiting blind spots and sound timing supplement these movements, but perhaps most encouraging is his proactivity – he’s always probing.
In O’Brien-Whitmarsh’s short senior career these tendencies have lent themselves well to phases in the final third, and when considered in conjunction with his (roughly) 6’1″ frame as well as the potential for further physical growth, there’s scope to for him to develop into a valuable secondary box threat.
When found in pockets of space, he routinely displays a secure first touch, and his receptions often boost Cork City’s efforts to retain the ball or move possession forward. He initially faces square, but consistently opens his body to receive on the spin, and times his scans smartly. This, in combination with a comfort receiving at multiple angles, on either foot, allows him to assess and execute sharply.
Generally, these factors are also conducive to reasonable on-ball security under pressure, and whilst O’Brien-Whitmarsh is absolutely capable of receiving securely under pressure, there can be inconsistencies. This is down to decisions around body orientation – even after scanning, he can turn in the wrong direction, presenting the ball to an opponent rather than shielding it.
However, the difficulty he has dribbling out of tight spaces may be more limiting to his overall press-resistance in the long term. Despite a sound first touch, O’Brien-Whitmarsh’s close control whilst dribbling appears to lack rhythm, and as a result he struggles to utilise the changes of pace and direction that are such essential tools when attempting to navigate out of pressure.
More encouraging is his passing ability. The 18-year-old possesses clear technical quality, but his tendencies as a passer suggest he may be more productive receiving slightly deeper than he does in his current role. He doesn’t stand out as an especially creative passer in advanced areas, and generally prefers to aim his passes into feet rather than playing through balls into space. O’Brien-Whitmarsh is a consistent short and medium range passer; comfortable on either foot, he links and passes out of pressure sensibly, and can shape his body to find unexpected angles for passes through the lines. Over longer distances he’s shown flashes of technical accomplishment, his cross-field switches, clipped balls over the top and deliveries from dead ball scenarios are often well-struck and well-weighted.
Out of possession, O’Brien-Whitmarsh primarily focuses on man-marking the opposition’s pivot, making it difficult to get a rounded view on his defensive positioning, but he has some raw upside as a ball-winner. He has a rangy build, and his long reach has allowed for a few strong tackles and interceptions. However, he also tends to overcommit his momentum when engaged in 1v1s, attempting to bait his opponent into an action, but then not able to recover if they exploit the space he has intentionally opened.
O’Brien-Whitmarsh has spoken openly about his desire to play in England, which, according to reports, is a distinct possibility. This is unsurprising, as with a fairly limited number of league minutes he has demonstrated the technical base of a player capable of playing at a higher level.
The Irishman is likely to be picked up by a Premier League club to play PL2 minutes, before a developmental loan – quite possibly at League One level. As he develops, there’s also a good chance he’ll move away from his current #10 position, as his profile is better suited to a box-to-box role that allows him to be more involved in build-up, but also gives him licence to be an offensive threat.
Having only just turned 18 and returning from a serious injury, there are obvious question marks when considering a long-term projection for O’Brien-Whitmarsh. However, if he can’t progress through a Premier League youth setup there is certainly scope for him to become established as a strong Championship-level player.