Deadline-day madness: a biannual event that Eunan O’Kane would not recommend to anyone.
In his case the pieces fell into place and a move from Bournemouth to Leeds United went through in the final hours of August 31. The tight timeline did not even allow him to get himself to Yorkshire.
The midfielder was in Dublin, preparing for an international with the Republic of Ireland that night, and technology was his saving grace. “It’s my first deadline-day move and the whole thing was very frantic,” O’Kane said. “It’s not the best experience you’ll ever have.
“I had the game that night and on one hand I wanted to make sure I was involved. On the other, I wanted to get the move to Leeds done. If the documents weren’t complete and I played (for the Republic) then there was a very real chance we’d miss the deadline.
“So there was lots of running around, lots of printers, scanners, fax machines. We were taking advantage of anything we could.”
At a certain point of the transfer window, O’Kane expected the transfer to go through without any of that chaos. Leeds showed an interested in him around the start of the season and both O’Kane and Bournemouth were willing to talk. The issues before deadline day, when Jack Wilshere arrived at Dean Court on loan from Arsenal, were valuation and the more basic matter of whether any deal for O’Kane would be permanent.
“The first I heard of it was maybe three weeks ago,” he said. “It’s been a long time coming about. It’s been on, it’s been off, it was a loan move then it was permanent. It’s been a whirlwind to say the least.
“I thought it was time for me to move on. I hadn’t played too many games last year and the season before that, I didn’t play an awful lot either. I had a few injuries but I’d done everything I could to get back in the team and it wasn’t going to happen. I needed to move on to further my own career.”
It said much about Garry Monk’s interest in O’Kane that United’s head coach went after him despite the range of central midfielders already available at Elland Road. That position is one of the few where Leeds are overloaded but Monk came into the final days of the transfer window with a clear set of requirements: another experienced option to complement Liam Bridcutt and an additional striker. The striker went begging.
Monk, who deemed Luke Murphy and Toumani Diagouraga surplus to requirements prior to the deadline, saw the Derry-born O’Kane as a wiser head and a safer bet than the younger members of his squad.
O’Kane is a veteran of more than 200 league appearances, many of them made during Bournemouth’s athletic climb through the Football League.
Bournemouth rose to the level where they could afford to fund Wilshere’s salary and afford to prise England Under-19 international Lewis Cook away from Leeds in July. O’Kane did not have the chance to speak with Cook while his move in the opposite direction was being finalised but the pair talked about the possibility a few weeks earlier.
“When I first heard about (Leeds’ interest) he said ‘it’s a good club, a good young team and a very close-knit squad’,” O’Kane said. “Since I’ve turned up I can’t disagree with anything he had to say.
“The manager told me he had some really good young players with exceptional potential and he needed me to be a bit of experience for them. He didn’t want them to think I was coming in here to kick them out. He wanted me to put my arm round them, be a bit like a big brother and help them learn from me. I hope they will.”
O’Kane is available for his debut in tomorrow’s derby against Huddersfield Town, one of no fewer than eight fit central midfielders. “The thing on my side is that the manager’s signed me,” he said. “He obviously wanted to bring in someone else and that was me. I’m going to have a fight on my hands but I’m more than up for it. Competition brings the best out of people.”
O’Kane has a had a habit of choosing his clubs sensibly. Torquay United, both his and Monk’s first English side, led him to Bournemouth at a time when the Cherries were neither fashionable nor on a roll. “My agent played a big part in that,” O’Kane said. “There were other moves I could have taken but on his say-so I turned them down.
“When it came to Bournemouth, he saw the potential and told me what was going on – it was easy to buy into that.” At Leeds, O’Kane has arrived at a time when results - four points from five games last month - are creating pressure. Tomorrow’s derby will carry a weight of it, against a local club who are top of the Championship.
O’Kane refused to consider where Leeds might finish in the table this season. “I don’t think there’s any point in saying,” he said. “I could give you a place in the league where we expect to be or want to be but there’s no need. When you do that you set yourself a limit. So unless you’re going to say ‘we’ll be top’, there’s really no point.
“It takes an awful lot (to get promoted) because the amount of games, the sheer volume in this league, is incredible. You’ve got to be in tip-top shape every game. It takes strong mental resolve.”
“You’ll come up against setbacks, you will face challenges. You’ll face unrest from the media and potentially the board not being happy at certain things. You have to stand up to it. If we can deal with all that then we’ve got a squad that’s good enough to compete.”
It is that sort of resilience which Monk will look for O’Kane to demonstrate to a relatively young squad. “There’s determination here and from what I’ve seen there’s a quiet belief in the squad,” O’Kane said.
“There’s a lot of young players and I think they don’t want to get ahead of themselves or be over confident. They’re very aware that they’ve got a lot to learn and there’s nothing to be shouting about right now. But at the same time, maybe we need to come out of our shells a little bit. I’ve only been here two days so it’s a short space of time for me to talk about but from what I’ve seen there’s a good enough squad to be at the right end of the table.”