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'If anyone thinks we're going out to play for a draw, they're hugely mistaken'

Eunan O’Kane is confident Ireland will take the game to Austria on Sunday.

Eunan O'Kane pictured during Ireland training.
Eunan O'Kane pictured during Ireland training.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

EUNAN O’KANE IS unlikely to feature against Austria for Ireland this weekend, but players like him symbolise what the squad is about.

Despite being a fringe member of the group, the Leeds midfielder has a good attitude and there is a sense of positivity in how he speaks about the team.

By all accounts, the Boys in Green are a close-knit group, and the atmosphere is appreciated by veterans and newer squad members alike.

As Harry Arter said yesterday: “One thing I’ll say here, the group of lads here are a great bunch, one that I feel I’ve settled into really well from when I first met up.”

Such words may to some sound clichéd but they are repeated often enough that you get the sense there is more than an element of truth to them.

Furthermore, the talk of a good spirit within the Irish team’s ranks is backed up by actions.

Rather than avoiding international duty, as Austria defender Andreas Ulmer infamously has done, Irish players are going out of their way to be part of the experience rather than wanting to make an early start to their summer holidays.

After a miserable, injury-ridden season with Reading where he made just one start in the Championship, Stephen Quinn was still eager to link up with the Irish squad even though game time was out of the question.

We have young Quinn who has not played for some considerable time just asked would it be alright to come and join in for the week — he knows the players, it is a chance to get some fitness,” O’Neill said last week.

“He won’t be considered obviously for the games. He just wanted to come. I don’t want people to think this is just a free-for-all and anybody can turn up, because you might have some of the older players, who have retired 15 years (arriving). But overall, the atmosphere has always been pretty good.”

O’Kane gives off a similarly good impression. With just seven caps under his belt, the Derry native is one of the less experienced players in the squad. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old is happy to take on media duties on Wednesday afternoon and speaks with the sort of confidence that this Irish side, who sit joint-top of their World Cup qualifying group with Serbia on 11 points, are increasingly becoming associated with.

The time we have is very beneficial,” he says of the extended period the Irish team have spent together as the season comes to an end.

“We’ve been working on things. We obviously don’t get this time very often in the season. In terms of off the pitch, it’s been very good to spend a little bit more time with the boys. We don’t see each other very often during the season unless we play each other, so to have that little bit of time to bond is only going to help in the long run.”

James McClean The Irish squad took part in an open training session at the Aviva Stadium today. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The routine of togging out in the National Training Centre in Abbotstown can, he suggests, get somewhat monotonous, so it was refreshing today when the team took a trip to the Aviva Stadium.

We’ve been here it seems like forever now,” he says. “So it was nice to have a little bit of a change of scenery, it’s good to get a bit of atmosphere in the stadium as well — instead of training when it’s just the staff around.”

O’Kane admits he is unsure if he will even make the matchday squad, but one thing he is certain of is the team’s approach for this weekend’s game.

Roy (was) saying if anyone thinks we’re going out to play for a draw, they’re hugely mistaken. That’s the case. We want to go into the game to win.

“I don’t think in any of the games in this campaign, certainly in my time with the squad, a draw has been the objective. We go to win every game we can. And if we can get that win, it’s going to be pivotal in pushing us towards qualifying.

Everyone’s aware of the importance of the game. If the other result goes well, it’s an opportunity to open up a gap between us and the teams that are facing us. So we’re firmly fixed on getting a good result.”

And while there is a confidence within the group particularly after the superb 1-0 victory in Vienna back in November, they are under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task facing them.

They are consequently not paying any heed to speculation about unrest in the Austria camp.

“I don’t think anything you read or hear can affect how we prepare for the game,” O’Kane says. “If it is true, then they’re probably looking forward to the game and to getting on the pitch.

I don’t think we can expect anything different on the pitch from what we’ve seen when we last played them.”

And while there is a feel-good factor in and around the Irish squad in light of recent results, the same cannot be said about O’Kane’s club, Leeds.

After an encouraging run where the club narrowly missed out on the Championship play-offs, Garry Monk unexpectedly resigned as coach, forcing the club’s new owners to start the search for a new boss.

It’s frustrating that they haven’t even been able to work out a situation where both the club and him are happy. He did an excellent job for us last year. It’s been a very big improvement on Leeds over the last maybe 10 years, so obviously it’s frustrating.

“But at the end of the day, it’s football and managers change and it’s up to us now as players and the new manager and his staff that come in to pick Leeds back up and carry on from where we left off last season.”

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Paul Fennessy

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