Eunan O’Kane fit and buzzing again at high-flying Leeds
Young defender Conor Shaughnessy another to impress at Elland Road
Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O’Kane has played a key role in Leeds United’s fine start to the season in the Championship. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
Leeds United midfielder Eunan O’Kane says that the groin strain that kept him out of Ireland’s two World Cup qualifiers at the start of this month has cleared up and, with the 27 year-old in strong form for his club side, he should be pushing to play some part in the critically important games against Moldova and Wales.
“I’m feeling good,” said the player from Feeny, Co Derry. “I don’t have any issues at the moment. I’ve had a groin issue that’s been lingering for a while but thankfully it’s settled down, so all is well at the moment.”
Having been repeatedly left out towards the end of last season by then Leeds boss Garry Monk, O’Kane has been thriving so far in this campaign, with the Irishman featuring in every game as Leeds have taken an early lead in the Championship table under new manager Thomas Christiansen.
In an interview with BBC Radio Leeds, the midfielder claims that a new sense of stability at the club has contributed to the strong start, with the fans happier about the direction in which things are going and the players feeding off that.
He admits to have having frustrated with the way he fell out of favour under Monk, however, and suggests that he might have made a difference had he played towards the end of the season when the team’s push for promotion was faltering badly.
United looked to be on course for a place in the playoffs but took just four points from a run of six games that started with a defeat at Reading. O’Kane was an unused substitute in every one of the matches, four of which were lost, and he believes his experience might have been an asset to the team at such a crucial time.
“It was hugely frustrating for me,” he said, “because I had been in that situation before in terms of teams trying to get promoted and I do think my experience could have benefited everyone. It’s done now, it’s a new season but there are maybe a lot of little “ifs . . .” although it’s too late now.
“It’s not my place to pick the team but if you do go back to last season and look at the record of when I was in the team, I don’t think I could have done an awful lot more than what I did do. But I wasn’t being selected. It’s like I say, though, I didn’t get to pick the team; all I could do was make myself available.”
O’Kane admits to not having known much about Monk’s replacement, a Danish-born former Spain international who led APOEL to the Cypriot league title last season, but says the players were always going to have to impress the new man rather than the other way around.
“Regardless of who it is who comes in at a football club, that person, from minute one, has your career in their hands. I was a little bit like, ‘Thomas who?’ I didn’t know who he was but from minute one you come into training, he’s the boss. He’s the one who decides whether you stay there or you leave.
“So, it’s up to you to impress him and clearly quite a few of us have because we’ve extended our contracts and been playing.”
O’Kane, in fact, signed a new four-year deal before the second league game of the new season and 21-year-old defender Conor Shaughnessy followed suit yesterday after what have been a remarkable few weeks for the young Galwayman.
Shaughnessy joined the club last year after having been released by Reading but it was unclear whether he was really seen as a long-term prospect or simply a body to be brought in at a time that a couple of the underage teams at the club were fairly shorthanded.
Christiansen, though, handed him his first-team debut as a second-half substitute in the opening day defeat of Bolton and the Irishman has featured five times since, including a further two Championship appearances. Along the way, he has made enough of an impact for the manager to offer him a long-term future at Elland Road.
“I’m delighted,” says Shaughnessy, a former Republic of Ireland youth international who featured recently in an under-21 squad. “I’m really happy. The last couple of months have been really good for me and the club.
“It was something that I hoped for [when he signed on a much shorter term deal]. Obviously, back then it would have looked less likely but I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m grateful for the belief that the management have shown in me this season; for giving me the chance.
“I think I’ve shown I’m ready to play at this level and I’m really happy with that. Hopefully I can continue to improve over the next four years.”