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Is Joe Riley the new Joey O'Brien?

With Marcos Alonso all but certain to leave the Reebok, most of the attention this summer will be on the left back spot, but Bolton's young right back is entering his own make-or-break season.

Wait, why isn't he on crutches?
Wait, why isn't he on crutches?
David Rogers

In August 2011 spirits were high at the Reebok Stadium. Supporters still believed Owen Coyle was the right man to lead the club, Stu Holden was returning to fitness, and a 19-year-old right back named Joe Riley had just made his debut in the Carling Cup. Bolton Wanderers beat Macclesfield 2-1 that day, and the young fullback pairing of Riley and Spaniard Marcos Alonso had supporters salivating to see the fleet-footed lads storm the flanks in the Premier League.

In November, a few weeks after his 20th birthday, Riley got his chance. Against hated Stoke City, he played an absolutely outstanding game, dominating the right side of the field and helping his club to an emphatic 5-0 victory. This should have led to a good run in the side for the Academy graduate, but alas, injuries took their toll. He was in and out of the squad for the rest of the season, only making seven total appearances, four in cup competitions.

Coming into the 2012-2013 season, Riley looked like he had the inside track to winning the right back job. But more injuries limited his time in preseason training, and allowed Tyrone Mears to snap up the shirt. In fact, Riley only made two appearances this whole season. Once he lasted 90 minutes, the other he had to be taken off after 35 minutes with, you guessed it, another injury. Riley's talent is easy to see, and both managers he has played under have picked him whenever he has been fit. But Wanderers supporters have seen this story before.

Lion of Vienna Suite presents:

The Ballad of Joey O'Brien

It was in the steel town in 2004

when Sheffield Wednesday needed more

More of that metal in the midfield

They called Big Sam and made a deal

It may have only been League One

But the Irish lad had a ton of fun

Bolton supporters couldn't wait

To see the 18-year-old enter the Reebok gate

And enter he did, it was a hell of a show

33 starts set the world aglow

But the next year the injuries start

his lone appearance broke the fans heart

In 07-08 he teased us some more

fifteen starts, then doctors galore

It was his hamstring, it was his thigh

He even seemed to be Megson's guy

In 08-09 it got even worse

When Megson's comments became more terse

The Ginger told Joey that he was his friend

But he rushed him back, and injured again

The year after that, Wanderers gave up

Even though at 24 Joey was still a pup

Once again Sheffield Wednesday gave him a chance

But only four times did he manage to dance

All finally seemed lost for our Irish enchanter

But Big Sam returned, and the man had an answer.

Joey joined him out on London's east side

And Sam resurrected a career that had died

He played twenty-six games, almost half his career

And somewhere Phil Gartside was shedding a tear

Joey played a huge part in West Ham's promotion

Relegated Bolton hated even the notion

And while Wanderers struggled in the lower leagues

Joey was moving at premiership speed

Thirty-three times Big Sam wrote his name

His injuries gone he was running the game

O'Brien's come good now at age 27

He has found at Upton Park his own slice of heaven

And Wanderers have a new Joe with talent and vigor

and a terrible knack for busting his liver

But maybe Bolton are due some good luck

Because if he's another Vaz Te, then that would just suck.