His international exposure for this summer gathering was almost over before it got started but a fully fit Eunan O’Kane is prepared to play his part for Ireland on Sunday if required.
The journey of O’Kane and his fellow Foylesider Shane Duffy from Derry to Dublin 10 days ago was abruptly halted by another car ploughing into the back of them. Thankfully, the outcome of what Ireland manager Martin O’Neill described as a pile-up was worse damage to their vehicle than bodies, enabling the duo join the rest of the squad on the plane to New York the following day.
“It wasn’t any big deal,” said the Leeds United man, keen to downplay the incident. “I was a little bit shaken, maybe a little bit stiff the next day, and it wasn’t a nice thing to be involved in, no matter how small or how big it’s made out to be.
“The main thing is that nobody was injured and we were fit to play against Mexico.”
Both Derry men featured in that friendly a week ago. In keeping with the theme of the evening from an Irish perspective, neither felt they were at their best in a comprehensive defeat yet aware the workout was the first for five weeks since the Championship concluded.
O’Kane’s grogginess may have been further attributed to playing just twice since the end of March due to injuries. It was an overall forgettable end of season for everyone connected with Leeds as their play-off ambitions vanished and a change of ownership resulted in Gary Monk, who bought the Irishman from Bournemouth at the start of the campaign, quitting as boss.
“Our relationship was good and we exchanged thank you messages when he resigned,” revealed the 26-year-old.
“It was just a frustrating end to the season because we didn’t win enough games. We were well in matches, not losing by any big scorelines, but things just didn’t go our way.
“That was hard to take but I think the season was a big improvement, maybe the best Leeds had for ten years. I don’t know who will take over as manager but we’re heading in the right direction.”
Also on an upward curve are the Ireland team O’Kane has been part of for most of O’Neill’s tenure. Level at the top of their World Cup qualifying group and in good spirits for the visit of Austria on Sunday, Russia is getting closer on the horizon for this particular bunch.
His appearance against the Mexicans was O’Kane’s sixth at senior level and he carries the misfortune of competing for a spot in the area of the field O’Neill is best catered for options.
“There have been players in squads who are then gone but I’m still here,” he said.
“In the opportunities given, I’ve played well. I wouldn’t say I’ve set the world alight but I don’t think I’ve been poor in any of them either.
“I think my performances have earned the opportunity to keep coming back and getting more chances. Hopefully I’ll continue to do that and show I can do a job for the manager.”
Another battle O’Kane faces is on a personal level. The quest to have his upcoming humanist wedding to Laura Lacole legally recognised will be decided on by a High Court Judge tomorrow.
“We have the same views on life and, if it’s important to one of us, it’s important to both,” he said about the matter.
“Our wedding is booked for 22 June so things are getting tight now. This is out of our hands now. We had a very good (legal) team who put forward a very good case to the court and it all comes down to the judge now.”
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