BOURNEMOUTH midfielder, Eunan O’Kane will challenge anyone he hears bemoaning how the English FA Cup has lost its appeal.
For this 23 year-old life-long Liverpool fan, the lure is as strong as ever!
And the Feeney lad can barely contain his excitement at the thought of meeting his boyhood heroes in the fourth round of the world’s oldest domestic competition.
Two years ago, O’Kane was devastated after missing out on a trip to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup when playing for League Two outfit, Torquay.
The ‘Gulls’ suffered a shock exit at the hands of non-league Crawley Town on that occasion.
That day was one of the worst moments of his career and those memories were hard to banish.
And this week, the Co. Derry lad and his Bournemouth teammates were anxious to avoid a similar fate, with the glamorous meeting with Brendan Rodgers’ troops at stake for the winners of their third round tie with Burton Albion.
As it transpired, the Championship side ensured a comfortable passage into the fourth round where they now host a star-studded Liverpool team.
Now O’Kane can sit back and allow himself to dream of a fairy-tale giant-slaying and a mouth-watering opportunity to line up against his boyhood idol, Steven Gerrard at the end of the month.
“That day against Crawley, although they played well on the day, we felt we should’ve won that game.
“And to watch them playing at Old Trafford a couple of weeks later left a bitter taste in my mouth,” saidO’Kane.
“So I was very conscious of not having that feeling again.
“So I played the best that I could against Burton to make sure we didn’t miss out on a glamorous tie against Liverpool.
“I feel I’m in a very privileged position. A lot of young lads grow up supporting a team and the closest they get to them is watching from the stand.
“But I’m hopefully going to get the opportunity to play against them.
“Growing up, Steven Gerrard was my idol and if you asked me what player I would like to be like, I would pick him.”
It’s hard to stop his imagination running wild with thoughts of lining up against the Premiership giants.
And the Co. Derry lad is allowing himself to dream about knocking his favourite club out of the competition.
“When it comes to the game itself I will have to put my loyalties to Liverpool aside and concentrate on doing my best for Bournemouth.
“I’d be over the moon if we were to beat them,” he added. “I’m a Liverpool fan but if we were to knock them out I think it would take a few weeks to wipe the smile off my face.”
Bournemouth boss, Eddie Howe refused to let his players get carried away after the Burton result and told his players to focus attentions on this weekend’s clash with Watford.
“After the game there was a lot of talk about the Liverpool game as soon as we came off the pitch but the first words out of the manager’s mouth were about concentrating on the Watford game,” explained O’Kane.
“It is a bit of a distraction but you have to take each game as it comes.
“The last time we played Watford we got beat five or six one so we need to prove to them they’re not five goals better than us. We have to keep our focus on the league at the minute.”
A Republic of Ireland U21 international, O’Kane has had his fair share of ups and downs in his career.
Released by Everton where he was a trainee after moving from Maiden City Academy, he found himself plying his trade with Coleraine in the Irish League.
And it was a televised fixture against Glenavon which brought about a move to League Two Torquay where he went on to star in 2010.
He was one of four Torquay players to make the League Two ‘team of the season’ that year, playing 122 times for the club and scoring 14 goals.
And that form attracted interest from several Championship and League One clubs, with O’Kane deciding to make the move to Bournemouth where he has been given the freedom to play his favoured play-maker role in central midfield.
A keen admirer of manager Howe’s free-flowing football philosophy, O’Kane has flourished under his stewardship and is thoroughly enjoying his time with the ‘Cherries’ in the English Championship this season.
And the FA Cup tie with Liverpool could provide another window of opportunity to showcase his talent.
“Whenever I got released from Everton and the option was to go back to Coleraine, as much as I loved my time there it wasn’t ideally where I wanted to be. So I’ve come a long way to now be playing in the Championship.
“It’s nice to get back to this level and prove people wrong.
“There was a lot of people who told me I wouldn’t be a professional footballer because I was too small so it’s nice to meet those people and have that little smile.
“Hopefully, if I continue to work hard then who knows, these games against Liverpool and teams of that stature can be a regular occurrence.
“You never know who will be watching and the fact it will be on TV adds an extra incentive to do well.”
So try tell Eunan O’Kane the FA Cup has lost its spark.