O'Kane retains top-flight ambitions after fringe role in Bournemouth rise
Derry native Eunan O'Kane is refusing to give up hope on his Premier League and Irish dreams after a 'bittersweet' season at Bournemouth.
The 24-year-old had a heart-to-heart discussion with manager Eddie Howe at the end of a campaign where he fell completely out of favour with the Championship winners.
O'Kane kicked off Bournemouth's promotion tilt as a first-choice member of Howe's midfield but he made his last start in a defeat to Derby at the end of September.
From that point onwards, he was restricted to outings in the cup competitions and a handful of sub appearances in the league, with a 13-minute cameo in the win over Watford on January 30 proving to be his final contribution in a memorable year for his employers.
"The best expression for it would be bittersweet," says O'Kane. "The club has had a tremendous year and being promoted to the Premier League is an achievement for all of us.
"I'd have liked to play more but the fact of the matter is, the lads that are in there have performed consistently at a very high level, which is why we were top of the league.
"But I've been there on the journey as well, although I've not played in as many games. We're going into the Premier League, which is a huge stage for everyone, and from my point of view it's just more hard work now."
O'Kane said that he had a constructive discussion with Howe about his own struggles and left the room satisfied with the conclusion.
"We talked about a few things," he says. "We talked about the future and we came out of the room on the same page. I know where he stands, he knows where I stand.
"To say we cleared the air is the wrong expression, but we've had a talk about what's gone on and I've told him what I had a grievance with this year. He told me why I was in the position I was, which is because of how well the boys have done.
"It was a very calm and controlled conversation and we've come out of it on the same path.
"The only thing I can do is work hard and when it comes to pre-season, it'll be a clean slate for everyone. Last year is gone, this is a new year you want to be going back and putting the hat in the ring for a starting position."
O'Kane - who lined out in the fundraising game at the Brandywell for ex-Derry striker Mark Farren last Saturday after organiser Ruaidhri Higgins got in touch with his father - is recharging the batteries after a holiday to Vegas which Bournemouth gave the group as a thank you for their efforts.
He will be heading back to Vegas as well as Hawaii and New York on a personal holiday before gearing up for pre-season although he would prefer to be factoring in international commitments.
O'Kane made more appearances than Harry Arter in the 2013/14 season but the Londoner stepped things up a level this term and was duly rewarded with an Irish call.
Martin O'Neill managed the Derry select that O'Kane lined out for on Saturday and he is aware of the former Northern Irish U-21 international, who switched allegiance to the Republic in 2011 when he was at Torquay.
The player knows that he can only realistically put himself in the picture by winning his battle for a place in Howe's plans.
"If you're playing in the Premier League, I wouldn't say it's standard that you get into the Ireland squad but if you're doing well I don't think you can be overlooked," he says.
"Harry's had a tremendous year and I think he deserves his call-up. He's been one of the best midfield players in the Championship and I'm really happy for him. It's something I do want myself and it's something I'll be working towards."
O'Kane anticipates there will be new arrivals this summer that will add another layer of difficulty to his mission. The positive slant is that he already knows what Howe wants - a consistent philosophy about how the game should be played which defined their success.
With two feet in the door, he still has a chance of figuring in an exciting chapter.