Friday 23 March 2018

O'Kane unwilling to discuss north-south allegiance switch

O’Kane: Working his way back up
O’Kane: Working his way back up

Tom Rooney

Even at the second time of asking, Eunan O'Kane refused to explain why, after representing Northern Ireland at underage level, he chose to declare for the Republic four years ago.

The Bournemouth midfielder was playing in League Two for Torquay United at the time and, like fellow Derry natives Darron Gibson and James McClean, he exercised his right to switch allegiance.

Having lined out for the North's U-21s on four occasions, the former Everton youth went on to play for the Republic's equivalent - under Noel King - three times in 2012. When urged to recall his reasons for taking such a contentious path, O'Kane made it abundantly clear he had no interest in doing do.

"With that one, I've spoken about that four years ago," he said. "I think it's a little bit played out now, every time I do something like this, it's a question that's asked and I just want to move on from that. I hope people can let it go.

"People obviously want to know about me, the football career is the thing people want to know about.

"I don't think they need to know the ins and outs of my personal decisions. I like to keep my personal life and decisions solely to me."

Until his call-up Euro 2016 qualifiers with Gibraltar and Georgia, O'Kane's only contact with the senior national set-up had been when King placed him on standby in 2013 for the meaningless World Cup group games against Germany and Kazakhstan in the aftermath of Giovanni Trapattoni's departure.

He's well accustomed to periods in the wilderness, and his road to Premiership was far from straightforward.

O'Kane was released by Everton in 2009 after two years in their youth system, and he quickly signed for Coleraine FC.

After a year in the Irish League, he moved to Torquay, where he spent two seasons honing his craft.

His performances attracted the attention of Bournemouth, then in League One, and they signed him ahead of 2012-13 campaign.

The 25-year-old helped them to promotion to the Championship in his first season, and then on to the Premier League by the end of his third. He's grateful for every minute.

"Leaving Everton at the time that I did, obviously I didn't have the option to stay, but it helped me along the way," he said.

"I got into men's (football) a little bit earlier than some people, and I think the experiences I went through at Coleraine, Torquay and Bournemouth have made me the player and the person I am today.

"I wouldn't go back and change anything on that journey - it's been the right path for me."

It has been a whirlwind fortnight for O'Kane. He has broken into the Bournemouth first team, starting three of their four games in the top flight, including a fine individual performance in a narrow loss to Liverpool and could now be on brink of winning his first international cap.

"It was been huge. Fortunately, just prior to the squad being announced, I managed to get myself in the team at Bournemouth, and playing the game at Anfield, I think I gave quite a good account of myself and hopefully it put me in (Martin O'Neill's) plans for this trip and moving forward as well.

"There's a lot of competition for places here and, being a new boy, it's a little bit of an anxious wait when the 37 is named and when you get in the 28 and then down to the 23."

Irish Independent

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