ANDY O'Brien counted his Reebok blessings last night and actually thanked Harry Redknapp for treating him "like a mug".

The rock-solid defender spent a miserable season under the Portsmouth manager at Fratton Park but says the experience has helped him appreciate the good life with straight-talking Gary Megson.

He is playing regularly again, forced his way back into the Republic of Ireland squad and has helped lay a solid defensive base from which Wanderers are launching their spirited bid for Premiership survival.

But it might have been a lot different if the Whites hadn't made such a shaky start to the season and Sammy Lee hadn't been in such desperate need of a quality centre-back.

"If somebody had said to me six months ago or even longer that I'd have joined a club that was in the UEFA Cup, a big club with fantastic training facilities, a fantastic ground and fantastic supporters, I'd have questioned them," O'Brien confessed as he reflected on the dramatic turn of events.

"Call it what you want, luck or fortune, but here I am preparing for the Manchester City game. I'm playing football, which is what I've always wanted to do since I was seven.

"And I've got Mr Redknapp to thank a lot for that."

O'Brien's bitterness stems not so much from the fact that, in his final season at Portsmouth, he made only three senior starts, although that was frustrating for a player who had always played regularly at his previous clubs, Bradford and Newcastle, and in his first season at Pompey.

What angered him more was Redknapp, pictured right, didn't just tell he didn't want him at Fratton Park.

"I don't think he was honest with me," he said. "He treated me like a mug for quite a period of time at Portsmouth. I was on the bench a few times but I travelled all round the country just to watch games.

"In comparison, when Graeme Souness (the manager who sold him from Newcastle to Portsmouth in June 2005) didn't want me, he rang me up and said I wasn't going to be first choice and he was going to bring another centre-half in.

"Although I was frustrated and disappointed to hear the news, at least Graeme Souness was straight with me.

"I don't need a lot of TLC or anything like that, I just like to be told how it is."

O'Brien, who was already behind Sol Campbell and Linvoy Primus in the Pompey pecking order, knew life wasn't going to get any easier in the summer when Rednkapp signed Hermann Hreidarsson and Sylvain Distin. But the ultimate snub came in pre-season when the squad numbers were doled out.

"I went from number five to 33, which was the highest number available," he said. "I didn't need anyone to spell it out to me.

"So I'll always be grateful to Sammy Lee for giving me the opportunity."

There was always the chance that, when Lee was sacked just six weeks later, O'Brien might not have been Megson's cup of tea. But life just got better and better under his fellow Yorkshireman, who he now regards as a father figure.

"He reminds me to a certain extent of my dad," said the 28-year-old, who was born and raised in Harrogate.

"He can be very vocal when he wants to be and had another side to him. I don't know if it's a Yorkshire trait or not, but I always said Bobby Robson at Newcastle was like a father figure because he could have a laugh with the players but also had an aura about him. He commanded respect and so does the gaffer here when you see the way he treats people.

"I think you know where you stand with him and that's important. I prefer someone being straight with me.

"He's got a lot of ingredients in his make up. He can have a laugh with you, but he's doing it for a reason because he wants something out of you. And if that doesn't work, he can give you a rocket up your rear end as well.

"Nowadays you have to be almost a psychologist with footballers because they are all different.

"But he has the ability to deal with characters like Dioufy, who is the life and soul of the party, and the quieter members of the squad. He's got time for everybody and that generates a team spirit, which is 50 per cent of the battle."