As he serenaded his new team-mates with an initiation song after dinner last night, uncapped Ireland midfielder Eunan O’Kane could understand how the choice of ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rogers has resonance to his career.
Everton manager David Moyes has discarded the Toffees trainee in 2009, leaving O’Kane to seek an outlet for redemption back in Ireland with Coleraine. Though the experience of playing men’s football as a teen toughened him up, its function as a springboard back into the professional ranks only generated an offer from English fourth division Torquay United.
O’Kane had the choice to hold his cards or fold them. Being a big fish in a small pond didn’t enrich him but carried benefits, especially the location being so commutable to his family home in Derry.
Still, rejection from Moyes rankled. The ambition to revive the ambitions he held when setting out as a 15-year-old for Merseyside remained and if the risky way to the top needed negotiating, so be it.
Five years later, he’s slalomed through three divisions to become a Premier League regular for newly-promoted Bournemouth and is part of an Ireland squad for the first time since defecting from Northern Ireland three years ago.
His recent display against Liverpool at Anfield was enough to convince the watching Martin O’Neill of his worthiness for selection.
“When you wake in the morning and eventually manage to climb back up the ladder, it gives you a grounding and reminds you to make the most of each day,” said the 25-year-old yesterday.
“I was earning £60 a week at Coleraine, with another £40 per appearance. Things are a bit different now for me but places like Coleraine and Torquay were not glitz and glam. Some people in the press moan about young players when they sign for 40 or 50 grand a week at just 19 or 20 years old. They don’t value the opportunity they have and think it’s very easy.”
At no time during his resurgence, even playing at Coleraine Showgrounds before a few hundred hardy spectators, did O’Kane realign his expectations on what the future could hold.
The prospect of challenging for a midfield berth, in this case against Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy for the Euro double-header with Gibraltar and Georgia, was never discounted.
He said: “As a footballer, I don’t think you place limitations on yourself. If you start to do that, you get comfortable at the level you are at and you stop progressing.
“So when I made the decision there were no limitations on where I could go, or what level I could get to in my club career or at international level. That has benefited me on the journey to get here. I’ve no regrets about switching (from Northern Ireland). Standing here at Ireland training proves it was the right decision.”
He travelled to Dublin on Monday with the best wishes of his injured Cherries team-mate Harry Arter and intent on making the 23-man cut for the place which leaves tomorrow for Faro.
When he asked chirpy cockney Arter for some insight into what a maiden call-up would entail, one piece of advice dominated. “Harry told me to get my song read for my initiation!” O’Kane revealed. “I don’t have to sing too much in ‘The Gambler’ so that’s the easy option.” On this occasion, the lyrics took precedence over the tuning.
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