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Opinion: Few Irish Players Look Like They Want It More Than Eunan O'Kane

Opinion: Few Irish Players Look Like They Want It More Than Eunan O'Kane
By Mikey Traynor Updated

There were not too many positives to draw from Ireland's performance against Iceland last night.

Daryl Horgan was undoubtedly one, and Robbie Brady's desire to create chances was another, but aside from them you'd be hard pushed to find an Irish fan willing to talk about anything other than the brass band from the 1-0 loss, but one man who made a big impression on me at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday was Eunan O'Kane.

Introduced in the 63rd minute, O'Kane arrived into an Irish midfield that had been totally bypassed for the previous hour. On his debut, Conor Hourihane showed a few nice touches, but ultimately played the majority of it with the ball flying over his head. Jeff Hendrick took on a leadership role in midfield and did his best to keep us organised positonally, but ultimately did not do nearly enough by his own high standards. Our best midfielder on the night was the Leeds United man.

He was remarkably busy in midfield, dropping deep to collect the ball and start moves, he played with an urgency that suggested a loss would have been a catastrophe, and when he had the ball, he used it well.

Since arriving from Bournemouth as he struggled to break into Eddie Howe's side, O'Kane, unfortunately, has also struggled to find a regular place in the Leeds team. That doesn't mean that the fans don't love him, and that his manager doesn't rate him, the opposite is actually true.

O'Kane isn't playing at Leeds because of a number of niggling injuries and the fact that the club have come across a midfield system that really works with two players that are on permanent deals at the club in captain Liam Bridcutt and Ronaldo Vieira. When he has played, he has been good.

Speaking on Radio Yorkshire earlier today, former Leeds boss Neil Redfearn defended O'Kane when it was suggested that he had been in a poor run of form.

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I think when he initially came onto the scene he was a revelation to be honest with you. I think they didn't rush Bridcutt back because of him.

His knowledge in his game, a very unselfish player, very much a team player, I think the groin problem has troubled him a little bit so I don't think he has been as good in recent games, because his standards are so high.

O'Kane's unselfishness was what helped Ireland make a game of it in the second half. When it looked like most were scared to make a mistake, instead opting for the safety of a hoof, O'Kane was lending the ball to teammates and making space for the return.

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I myself took time to praise O'Kane for his business in The Balls.ie Football Show recorded earlier tonight:

Above all else it was absolutely clear that the Derry man was desperate to be on the pitch, and he's the only one that stood out to me in that regard.

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James McClean worked his balls off as always, and Kevin Doyle kept trying despite being bullied in the air, so it's not a knock on the Irish squad for a lack of care, it's just that O'Kane's enthusiasm to involve himself struck a chord with me.

He may not be in the discussion when it comes to our midfield for the Austria game in June, and rightly so, as I believe James McCarthy, Glenn Whelan, and Harry Arter to be better players than him, but to see that sort of determination in a friendly where all hope looks lost is what I like to see in an Ireland player.

I hope Martin O'Neill noticed, as when we play Uruguay in a friendly in June he deserves to be rewarded. On a night when things weren't going to plan and the result didn't even really matter, he looked like he cared more than anyone on the pitch or indeed in the stands.

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He's got fire in the belly, he won't go hiding on you, and he desperately wants to play for Ireland. I think he deserves more credit for that.

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