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O'Kane eyes debut after Republic switch

HE'S the latest player to make a cross-border move and throw in his lot with the Republic of Ireland after a spell playing for the Northern Ireland underage teams. But Derry lad Eunan O'Kane insists he's made the right move in taking up an offer from the FAI.

Highly-rated Torquay United midfielder O'Kane is in line to make his debut for the Republic's U21s when they play Denmark in Tallaght Stadium tonight (7.30) as a warm-up to a crucial Euro qualifier against Italy in Sligo next Monday, a game Ireland need to win if they're to have any hope of catching the top two in their qualifying group (Italy and Turkey).

With key U21 players such as Gavin Gunning, Rob Kiernan, Conor Henderson and Adam Barton all injured, manager Noel King has added some fresh faces to the squad so O'Kane is in line for his debut. And it's a big moment for the youngster who hopes to follow the example of fellow Derrymen James McClean and Darron Gibson by progressing to the senior squad, having won a number of youth and U21 caps for his native Northern Ireland.

"There is a big deal being made of this now, when players switch from the North to the Republic and you do get criticism. It's part and parcel of making that decision, but it's just something you have to accept and get on with," O'Kane told the Herald.

"I didn't get anything like the amount of stick that James McClean got when he decided to go with the Republic.

"I am just glad it's all done and that I can just focus on playing football. It's going to be a sore point for Northern Ireland when you see lads like James McClean, Darron Gibson and Shane Duffy, who have all played in the Premier League, go with the Republic.

"I can understand where fans in the North are coming from, they are losing players who could have improved their team," added O'Kane, who comes from the small village of Feeny, just outside Derry city.

"I'm still friends with a lot of the guys in the Northern Ireland set-up and they understand that players like me have made a personal decision. Someone like Shane Ferguson could have played for either the Republic or the North. He made his choice to stay with Northern Ireland, and whatever people decide should be respected."