Boyhood Liverpool fan Eunan O’Kane says he is looking forward to the possibility of facing off against his idol Steven Gerrard as Bournemouth prepare for their FA Cup fourth round tie with the Premier League club.
The 23-year-old midfielder has been an integral part of the squad since his move from Torquay in the summer of 2012, and is expected to start in Saturday’s tie against Liverpool -- potentially lining up against the Reds’ captain in the centre of the pitch.
“I would consider Gerrard my idol, the person I look up to,” O’Kane tells ESPN FC. “I tried to be like him as much as I could. He was breaking through into the first team at the age I realised I could be a professional footballer.
“The ultimate thing for me was to play for Liverpool. The fact he came through as a young lad, and that he’s gone on to have the career that he’s had, shows if you do work hard and get your head down then ultimately it will pay off for you, and you get your just rewards.”
O’Kane’s career started at Merseyside rivals Everton, where he was mainly deployed in the deep-lying playmaker role he fulfils for his current side.
After being released by Everton, and after a brief spell with Northern Irish side Coleraine, O’Kane moved to Torquay. At Plainmoor, he was moved further up the pitch, which prompted performances good enough to be named in the League Two PFA Team of the Year.
A move to Bournemouth followed. Under manager Eddie Howe, O’Kane has dropped deeper, granted the responsibility of creating in front of the back four. The move, from offensive midfielder to defensive midfielder, is one Gerrard is currently undergoing at Anfield.
When asked whether he could tell Gerrard how to adapt to the move, O’Kane jokes: “I’m sure if there are any tips to be given out, he’ll be giving them to me! I’ve never thought of it that way. But if he needs a bit of help with anything, or a little bit of guidance, I’ll be happy to help him!”
O’Kane has become one of Bournemouth’s most consistent performers, but concedes he will have to maintain focus if he and Gerrard start Saturday’s game.
“It’s something I’m definitely looking forward to, he’s my idol,” says O’Kane. “If he starts the game and I start the game, I’ll hopefully be able to take in the handshakes and everything else but I’ll have to try to lock that out for 90 minutes, and the good thing about it is that I can hopefully record it and watch it on television and take it in afterwards.”
O’Kane’s support for Liverpool stems from his father, but it was not until he actually moved to Merseyside -- as a youth team player with Everton -- that he became a regular attendee at Anfield.
“I went to Anfield once or twice when I was younger, and obviously when I went to Everton in the youth team I tried to get to the Champions League games on a Tuesday or Wednesday as often as I could,” O’Kane recalls.
“It was difficult at that point to go on a Saturday because we were expected to turn up to first-team games at Everton, but I went as often as I could, and took in as many matches as was physically possible for me.”
The Derry-born playmaker plays as if his education came from those famous nights under the Anfield floodlights, with style on the ball and an industrious nature off it. Despite just two league goals since joining the Cherries, he admits it would be strange to score against the club he supports.
“I wouldn’t pass on the opportunity, I’m a Bournemouth player and have to do the best job I can for them, but it would be strange to score against them,” he admits.
“I would be over the moon I had scored purely because of the occasion and everything else, but I think I would have a few questions to answer after the game to my dad at home and a few of my mates. I would love to do it but I don’t know if the consequences after would make it worth it!”
And what of the possibility of drawing the first game, and earning a replay at the stadium he has been to as a fan?
“We would love to win, ultimately we want to go on and progress but if someone tells me I have to travel to Anfield to play a game, it’s not something I would say ‘do I really have to?’ about,” he says.
“From my point of view, it would be a massive occasion with it being my boyhood club, I have dreamt of doing that and playing at Anfield. Although my dreams have had me in a Liverpool shirt, the red of Bournemouth will be close enough.”