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O'Kane sights on Reds scalp

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Eunan O'Kane

Eunan O'Kane

Eunan O'Kane

AS A KID in the small Derry village of Feeny, Eunan O'Kane had just one request when it came to birthday or Christmas presents: the latest Liverpool shirt.

This weekend, the Republic of Ireland U21 cap will get a chance to earn a Reds jersey by swapping shirts at the end of an FA Cup tie, O'Kane hoping that Liverpool's visit to his club's home of Dean Court will end up with him having Luis Suarez's top in his kitbag as a souvenir and with Bournemouth earning a place in the next round of the Cup.

"If Suarez's shirt is up for grabs after the game I will go for it but I would be happier if I score the goal to get us into the next round," O'Kane told the Herald as Bournemouth fine-tuned their preparations for the visit of the Reds.

The 23-year-old has quite a few teams on his CV: he spent time with Everton as a trainee before he was released, had a fling with Gaelic football, played in the Irish League for Coleraine, toiled away in the fourth tier with Torquay before a move to Bournemouth, and has even lined out for two countries at international level, the Derry lad winning underage caps for Northern Ireland before his Republic switch in 2012.

But in all that time, Liverpool were close to his heart. "I was a Liverpool fan. When it came to presents for Christmas or birthdays, the new Liverpool kit was always top of the list for me," he says.

"Later on, when I was with Everton, I was able to get to see Liverpool play, especially if they had a midweek game I was desperate to get there. We had four or five players in the youth team at Everton who were all Liverpool fans and we'd get a fair bit of stick over it, you'd try and keep it quiet as I didn't want David Moyes to have a black mark beside my name before I'd kicked a ball.

"I can't say that my bedroom was a shrine to Liverpool but they were my club as a kid, I would have sat up late to watch Match of the Day just to see how Liverpool got on, and now here I am, getting the chance to play Liverpool in the FA Cup, it's a big deal for me."

BUZZ

It's a big deal for the whole club, as Bournemouth take a break from the league to face the Reds. "It's quite exciting and there's a real buzz around the place.

"I think the fans would be excited for us to have a home tie in the fourth round anyway, but for us to get Liverpool at home was great, some of our supporters camped out overnight at the ticket office the night before the tickets went on sale," says O'Kane, capped four times at U21 level by Noel King and a standby for the Ireland senior games under King last October.

"That's how much the fans are looking forward to it but as players, we can't get too carried away. It's just another game even though it is a massive Cup tie and we still have a job to do. Within ourselves we want to do well and get a positive result from it."

Premier League clubs rarely cry when they lose out in Cup games and while Bournemouth's FA Cup defeat of Manchester United 30 years ago was a big deal, a loss to Bournemouth would hardly get Brendan Rodgers the sack, but O'Kane still predicts a stiff test.

"You could say that the FA Cup would mean more to us than it would to the Liverpool players, but anyone who has that sort of attitude shouldn't be a footballer. You should go out and try to win every game you play, regardless of what club you play for, whether you are playing five-a-side with your mates or playing for Liverpool," he says.

"And I don't think Liverpool will come here and let us roll over them because they are more interested in the Premier League than the FA Cup. Liverpool aren't in the Champions League or Europa League, they are out of the League Cup, so the FA Cup is probably their best chance of winning a trophy and it's important for them.

"There is pressure on them to come and beat us as they are the Premier League side but we have confidence in our ability and I think we can get a result on the day."

For O'Kane, this is an enjoyable moment in the spotlight as he has taken a long road to his current status as a Championship player.

Released by Everton after his traineeship there, he came home and played Irish League football for Coleraine and from there got a move to Torquay United, later progressing to Bournemouth.

"I know a lot of the lads who went on from the League of Ireland, like Kevin Doyle and Séamus Coleman, speak highly of their time there and I feel the same about the Irish League.

"Even though I loved my time at Coleraine and I am grateful to them for helping me get to where I am, being honest I have to admit that I didn't want to be there. And yet it was the best thing for me in terms of my career, that year in the Irish League was so important.

"I learned what it was like to be released by a big club.

"When I was at Coleraine there was no safety net, we were playing for three points every week, the manager's job was on the line and that does toughen you up. It made me realise what football was really about.

"It also made me appreciate things more as you see how quickly things can be taken away from you. One minute I was at Everton, working at a £30million training complex where everything is done for you, and a few weeks later I was at Coleraine where we had to watch how long we trained for as the groundsman wanted the lights turned off to save money on the electricity bill. And I wouldn't swap that time for anything in the world as I learned so much there."


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