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Saturday 10 December 2016

O'Kane's Able for task

Bournemouth man hopes for call from O'Neill

Eunan O’Kane, in action here during the recent friendly against Switzerland
Eunan O’Kane, in action here during the recent friendly against Switzerland
Eunan O’Kane before Saturday’s Premier League clash with Everton.

Fawlty's Bar in Killybegs became part of local folklore in Donegal as that's where Seamus Coleman watched all of Ireland's matches at Euro 2012, having failed to make it into the Irish squad for the tournament.

A quiet spot called the Sperrin View Bar in the Co Derry village of Feeny is where Eunan O'Kane may end up watching the games in June - his aunt runs the place and she's already been pestering her nephew for a framed Ireland jersey to hang behind the bar and mark the arrival of the village's first international footballer.

Of course the Bournemouth midfielder plans to be part of the action in France in June and not one of the punters watching on a big screen back home.

He's come a long way in his career, from his spell back home in Ireland with Coleraine in between rejection by Everton and Premier League success with his current club, but he's also come a long, long way in international terms in the last few weeks, O'Kane winning his first cap against Switzerland and then making his full debut against Slovakia.

Thoughts of that 'journey' as these things are called now, entered his mind in the aftermath of his arrival on the Ireland scene in March.

"I have been wondering about what it would mean for me to make the squad for the Euros, when I thought about this the other day, Coleraine came into my head, when I went there having been released by Everton," O'Kane told The Herald.

"After that, when I was at Torquay, if someone had told me I'd be at least in with a shout of making the Republic of Ireland squad for a major finals, people would have laughed at me.

"It would be an amazing finish to the season and a great step forward in the journey I've been on since I was back home in the Irish League at Coleraine.

"I have no real plan for the summer, I just know I'll come home to Ireland when the season with Bournemouth is over, after that I could have only a few days off before linking up with the Irish squad or I might have a good few weeks off, if I'm not in the squad, I won't worry about it now. If it's not my turn this time, I'll deal with it and look ahead to the next campaign for the World Cup." He's passed one test at least - the sing-song of initiation into the squad. In a day when Premier League footballers appear to listen to nothing but R&B, it's a comfort to the older generation that O'Kane picked a Kenny Rogers number to impress the squad.

"Even being in the underage squads does not prepare you for how daunting it is to go in to the senior panel and make that step-up," he reveals.

Initiation

"To be sat there in front of the people that you grew up watching, like Robbie Keane, is intimidating, and I was glad to get the initiation over, I just sang The Gambler. I think it went down ok."

A year ago, O'Kane was not really on the international radar but after two impressive displays, he's at least in Martin O'Neill's thoughts for a midfield slot, especially as players in competition for that position such as David Meyler, Harry Arter and Jeff Hendrick are currently out with injury.

So, has he a chance? "I think I have at least given myself a much better chance of being involved, I went into the games in March with the initial aim of being involved, then to try and do well after that," he says.

"In terms of where I am, I have no idea, it's down to what the manager thinks is best, but if I am high enough up the ladder to get on the plane, I'd be delighted.

"Some of the lads who came in last time didn't get to play and that may have been tough on them, so I know I got game time which is a bonus. I have given myself a chance at least, I just hope it's enough.

"The more playing time I get between now and the end of the season the better for me. The manager and his scouts will be watching people over the next week or two and even one good game could help."

O'Kane showed his eye for goal with a close effort against Slovakia and, while the Ireland squad which went to Poland in 2012 was one-paced and lacked creativity, that's the asset which O'Kane wants to add to the blend.

"What I would bring to the squad is calmness. I like being on the ball, I'm not one of these players who is uncomfortable in possession, I like being in a tight space and having to find a way past people.

"That's my style of play and my strength, being on the ball and not being rushed," he explains.

"I'd like to think that if I did play in France, I could help the team have a bit more of the ball, have a higher percentage of possession, that's the strength that I would try to bring."

He's not the only Cherries player with a Euro dream, team-mate Harry Arter hoping to recover from injury in time.

"I haven't had too many chats with Harry about the Euros as he's just focused on his injury and getting fit again," he reveals.

"I know he's desperate to make the squad, he has real ambitions of being in France and hasn't ruled himself out, it would be great for the club to have two players in the Irish squad at the Euros."

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