EUNAN O’Kane believes Ireland will come back stronger following their FIFA World Cup play-off heartbreak and he’s hoping he can play a bigger role in forthcoming campaigns.
The Leeds United midfielder was on the periphery of Martin O’Neill’s squad during the World Cup qualifying campaign and watched from the stands as Denmark’s hat-trick hero, Christian Eriksen ran riot in the 5-1 dismantling at the Aviva Stadium.
Unfortunately it wasn’t our night and didn’t go our way but there’s a young squad there - a lot of young players on the pitch tonight and we have to pick ourselves up and look forward to the next campaign.Eunan O’Kane
O’Kane - one of three Derry men in the Irish set-up - admitted the Ireland dressing room was ‘dejected’ after last Tuesday night’s mauling but insists the team should be ‘proud’ of getting to within 90 minutes of making a first World Cup Finals since 2002.
Refusing to dwell on the result against the Danes and the disappointment of missing out on Russia 2018, O’Kane was instead keen to focus on the future and believes the next generation of Ireland players will learn from the experience.
“It’s not nice and I don’t think we deserved to go out in that fashion,” said the 27 year-old Banagher man. “It hasn’t been the best of nights but we have to pick ourselves up and move forward again.
“Our group wasn’t the friendliest of groups so to put ourselves in the position before tonight was a huge credit to the squad and the lads we have.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t our night and didn’t go our way but there’s a young squad there - a lot of young players on the pitch tonight and we have to pick ourselves up and look forward to the next campaign.
“I know that’s not going to be at the forefront of most people’s minds right this second but we have to keep looking forward. It’s in the past now.
“There is reason to be proud,” he added. “It was a really tough group and I think we were the fourth seed in our group when it was drawn. So to give ourselves opportunities like we have has been a tremendous effort from the squad.
“Maybe not tonight but in years to come we can look back at it as something to be proud of. It’s obviously disappointing not to get over the final hurdle but it’s a learning experience for all of us - myself included.
“It’s a very dejected dressing room in there and it’s not a feeling many of us will want to experience again. Hopefully we will be able to use this as an example to stay away from that feeling and try and have more success in the future.”
The former Bournemouth and Everton man has seven caps and appeared twice for his country in 2017 but he feels he can become a bigger player in O’Neill’s squad should he continue playing regularly with Championship outfit Leeds
His move to Elland Road in search of regular club football has paid off and with some of Ireland’s old guard ready to hang up their boots, O’Kane is ready to stake a claim for a midfield berth.
O’Neill has shown in the past he’s willing to integrate young players like Shane Duffy, Cyrus Christie and Jeff Hendrick into his team and they’ve repaid his trust. Therefore O’Kane is confident he will get his chance.
“Martin has said numerous times if you’re playing at your club you go up the pecking order quite quickly so I need to concentrate on Leeds moving forward and make sure I stay in the team and get us back to winning ways.
“If you’re doing well at your club then there’s every reason the international manager will pick you.”
The midfielder signed a four year deal with Leeds last August which keeps him at the club until the end of the 2020/21 season and, despite a recent blip, he’s confident the Yorkshire club can still achieve promotion to the top flight.
“I’m enjoying my football but it’s been a bit of a rough ride over the last couple of weeks. But it’s nice to be playing. I’ve played a lot of minutes and hopefully that will continue and we can get back to winning ways.”