How the Irish put Cherries on top

Barring a miracle of epic proportions on Saturday, Ireland’s strong historical connections with Bournemouth will be enhanced in the Premier League next season.

How the Irish put Cherries on top

From the 80s when Sean O’Driscoll and Gary Howlett were regulars to loan spells in their formative years for John O’Shea and Marc Wilson and up to the present cohort led by Harry Arter, a green hue has coloured the Cherries.

Dubliner Shaun Maher, who spent the majority of his career at Dean Court between 2001-2007, was chuffed on Tuesday night to see his former team-mate Eddie Howe spearhead the club to heights he felt were unreachable.

Just two months after Maher departed the coastal club, they entered administration and were heading for financial ruin. Instead of fighting for their very existence, however, Bournemouth’s sole battle will be to remain in the richest division in the world, the Premier League.

“I could never have forecasted the club progressing this far,” said Maher, who returned home to play for then champions Drogheda United at the time.

“Having a stadium with just 12,000 capacity and living in the shadow of neighbours Southampton meant League One was about the club’s level, in my view.”

Three promotions in the last seven campaigns, to be now amongst the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, represents a testament to 37-year-old Howe’s ingenuity. For all the praise Maher gushes on the manager, though, he cites the investment of Russian owner Maxim Demin as a facet essential to their ascent.

“Bournemouth is an area full of wealth, so it surprised me how long it took for someone like Maxim to fall in love with the place and pump millions in.

“That’s what it needed to realise the club’s potential and put them in a different league. They had a bid of €7 million for Demarai Gray rejected by Birmingham in January whereas, when I was there, Bournemouth were buying players in the low thousands.”

Howe’s heroes, including Irish pair Arter and Eunan O’Kane, are very much in the big time now. Promotion is said to be worth €100m to a club whose turnover last year was a miniscule five per cent of that largesse.

Having been released by Premier League clubs as teens, both Irishmen may have considered Bournemouth a halfway house towards their return to the top-flight rather than the permanent residence it has become.

Saturday’s concluding match at his former club Charlton Athletic will be Arter’s 50th appearance of the campaign, proof of the recent Ireland call-up being integral to their surge.

A year ago, at the end of their first season in the Championship, O’Kane was deemed similarly vital to the team’s midfield chassis, yet a serious ankle injury has restricted the Derryman to 17 outings in this campaign.

Less frequent too have been outings this term for Ian Harte who, at 37, is unlikely to have his contract renewed by Howe as the niftier pace of the Premier League beckons.

The Cherries chief has Josh O’Hanlon, their €50,000 purchase from Longford Town last year, in his future plans despite the 19-year-old currently spending a loan stint at York City.

Of most encouragement for Irish fans from Bournemouth’s unlikely arrival at the top table is the opportunity of assessing Arter against some of the world’s finest midfielders.

Nothing has come easy for the 25-year-old since Charlton discarded him and his journey back via non-league Woking makes more a man determined to take his chance for club and country.

“Promotion hasn’t quite sunk in yet but, make no mistake, we’ll be ready for the Premier League in August,” Arter said yesterday.

“Playing at the highest level can only be a good thing for my international prospects. Getting the call from Martin O’Neill for the qualifier against Poland last month fulfilled an ambition so, hopefully, I can go on and make my debut in the coming months.”

Whilst the club’s success has been based on a fluid passing style encapsulated by Arter, Maher believes the lush pitch they ping the ball around on at Dean Court could ultimately work against them during their first ever Premier League season.

“The surface is always immaculate, so much so I remember the groundsman winning awards,” the 36-year-old points out. “Unlike pitches such as Turf Moor, the best Premier League players will love playing at Bournemouth because the pitch is so wide and neat.

“Still, the club have some excellent players and, with a few additions in the summer, could hold their own in the Premier League.”

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