EUNAN O’KANE insists he’s primed and ready to finally make his Premiership bow tomorrow, six years after being released from Everton.
The 25-year-old Feeny lad has made a remarkable journey since being told by “Toffees” coaches he was too small to make the grade at Goodison Park.
Via spells with Torquay and Coleraine, he’s battled back bravely and earned his seat at the top table of English football.
And tomorrow he hopes to be involved as Bournemouth kick-off their inaugural season in the Premier League and welcome Aston Villa to the Vitality Stadium on the south coast.
Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe, has resisted the urge to make wholesale changes to the squad which clinched the Championship title last year.
And although Maiden City Academy graduate, O’Kane, refuses to take anything for granted, he believes he’s good enough to mix it with the stars of the Premiership.
“As exciting as it is at this stage, you have to sort of check yourself and realise that you have a job to do,” O’Kane told the ‘Journal’. “It is very exciting and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind - the last week especially, getting prepared for the season ahead with things off the pitch. So it will be quite a welcome release to get back on the pitch on Saturday.”
The affable and richly talented O’Kane believes his release from the Everton Academy was a blessing in disguise as he’s gone on to garner valuable experience in the game. And he took great encouragement when he recently came across a statistic that claims at least 98 per cent of academy players who fail to break into the first-team at Premier League clubs never complete the return journey.
“I read somewhere the other day that 98 per cent of academy players at Premier League clubs are released and never make it back.
“It’s quite remarkable so thankfully, come Saturday I might get the opportunity that I didn’t manage to get when I was 18 years-old and realise my dream of playing in the Premier League.
“I wouldn’t say I see it as a second chance. At the time when I was 18 I was let go for whatever reason at Everton. “It was a lot to do with things out of my control It was probably a good thing for me in the long run. Since then I’ve played a lot more football and got a lot more experience under my belt. It’s now a step I feel I’m ready to take and I will try to take advantage of it.”
Bournemouth boss, Howe has strengthened ahead of the new season following the arrivals of Sylvain Distin and Max Gradel among others. And while the manager said he doesn’t feel pressure to be loyal to players who helped gain promotion, O’Kane feels everyone will get their chance this season.
“The worst thing that could happen was if Eddie made wholesale changes. We have a very good dressing room and some very talented footballers.
“If we weren’t promoted this year I think there would have been a lot of our players pinched by Premier League clubs.
I might get the opportunity that I didn’t manage to get when I was 18 years-old and realise my dream of playing in the Premier League.Eunan O’Kane
“We do have a lot of quality and I think it’s fair that he’s prepared to give the people that got us here the chance to play at that level.
“At the same time he’s quite a ruthless manager,” explained O’Kane. “If you’re not good enough he will look to bring someone else to either push you or else to do your job for you.
“You know if you perform then you will keep your place but at the same time you are on your toes all the time because you know he will bring someone else in. So that pushes you on.
“Sylvain (Distin) brings a lot of experience and that will be invaluable for us when things gets tough. He’s been there before and seen everything. Our squad isn’t very experienced with the Premier League and he brings a huge amount.
“He’s a great signing and he’s been brilliant in pre-season. You can ask him questions and he’s willing to pass on his experience to us. You can’t really put a price on that!”
O’Kane is hopeful Bournemouth will be a breathe of fresh air for the Premiership this season and he believes they can follow the path of Swansea who maintained their Premier League status without sacrificing their free-flowing, attacking football philosophy. And he believes the newly named Vitality Stadium can be an intimidating place for the league’s top teams.
“The manager is very strong in his opinion on how the game should be played and how he wants it played.
He’ll give everyone an opportunity to prove they can do it at Premiership level. Over the last three years we’ve played an attacking brand of football. Sometimes at some grounds you might not get away with that but for 90 per cent of our games we want to be the team dominating the ball and creating chances.
I don’t think you’ll see us often parking the bus regardless of how things are going.
“The stadium name has changed again to the Vitality Stadium so we want to make it a hard place for teams to come to.
We haven’t done much to the stadium with regards to the changing rooms for away teams. So it will be a bit of a shock for some of these big stars.
“Add to that an attacking brand of football we can hopefully implement throughout the season and hopefully teams won’t want to come down here. It’s exciting and everyone wants to get going now,”