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Interview: Crystal Palace midfielder Stuart O'Keefe

Interview: Stuart O'Keefe
© PA Photos
Sports Mole catches up with Crystal Palace midfielder Stuart O'Keefe ahead of the new Premier League season.

Stuart O'Keefe was not selected in Crystal Palace's starting lineup for their Championship playoff final against Watford in May, but the combative midfielder made up for lost time when he entered the field after 18 minutes.

His all-action display in the middle of the park was a major contributor to Palace securing a Premier League berth, courtesy of a penalty from veteran striker Kevin Phillips.

Now that the dust has settled, Sports Mole caught up with the 22-year-old to discuss the last few months.

So, Stuart O'Keefe, Premier League footballer. Has it sunk in yet?

"I think it will once the fixtures get underway. It was a big thing when the fixtures came out, who you are going to be playing on what dates etc. Once the season gets underway and we've got Spurs at home, it will really sink in."

Deep down, did you ever think that Palace would secure promotion last season?

"To be honest, no. At the start of the year we were one of the favourites to go down. Obviously we lost a lot of key players in the summer, but we had a good core and a good group of lads who worked hard and in that league, anyone can beat anyone. If you get a good bunch together, you can find yourself shooting up the table.

"We were there or thereabouts at Christmas and obviously we had the changeover (Dougie Freedman departing) with [Ian] Holloway coming in and to be fair he has been there and done it. He managed to maintain the momentum that we had just enough to make the playoffs, which was a great achievement for the boys."

It would be fair to say that Holloway is known as one of the big characters in the game. What is he like to play under?

"Yeah, he is fantastic to play under. Yeah, people see the joke side of him in interviews and messing about and he does love the banter side of things. But at the end of the day he does know what he is talking about, he is such an enthusiastic person, so easy to play for. If you work hard and have an open mind and you are enthusiastic, he will have you all day long."

It must have been disappointing not to have started the playoff final against Watford. But how did it feel entering the field so early?

"It was fantastic. I wasn't expecting to play, obviously I had all the family there, it was such a big occasion and when the manager said 'you are on' he did me a favour really because I didn't have time to think about it or get nervous or anything. I had a tackle in the first 30 seconds I was on and that put me straight into the game and I just carried on from there."

How has pre-season gone so far?

"We haven't had the longest of breaks with the playoffs, we had three weeks less than most teams. We went to Portugal for a week, which was quite hard with the heat. With the games, training has started to step up a bit, double sessions most days, but the lads seem in good shape, obviously the camp is happy. Everyone is buzzing and it is a good place to be around so hopefully the lads can kick on now with two weeks on Sunday until the start of the season."

You open your season at home to Spurs on August 18, then face Manchester United at Old Trafford after the international break. What is it like to have those sort of fixtures?

"When you are a kid it is all you want to do, play against teams like that with the best players in the world. Hopefully, fingers crossed we can have a good year and carry it on."

Kevin Phillips, Jerome Thomas and Dwight Gayle have all arrived at the club this summer. How have they settled in?

"Yeah they have done alright, obviously they are good players. They have come in and their ability is not in doubt, the lads have taken to them well. Yeah, they seem fine I think they will do well this year. Kev was here last year and the lads know him so it has been easier for him to settle in but the other two boys are quite experienced lads so they know what it is about."

What about your own ambitions for the new season?

"To keep improving and hopefully get a few games in the Premier League. I am not expecting to play every week, I know that, but to get a few appearances under my belt and to establish myself as a Premier League player would be a massive achievement for me this year so that is what I have got to look to do."

Would you consider a loan move?

"I suppose if I sat down with the manager and he said 'look I cannot give you the football you need' and I wasn't in the squad and travelling etc. then I would definitely have to look at that because at the end of the day I still need games. If the right loan move came along, either a Championship club or a decent League One team then I would definitely look into that if I was going to go there and play."

What about former Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who has been impressive in pre-season for Manchester United. Will he be welcomed back to Selhurst Park next season?

"I am sure he will get a great reception. Obviously a few of the boys still speak to him and they know how he has been getting on. He is taking to it quite well. I think he will get his chance next year, we all know he has got the ability. If he starts well, then [David] Moyes will give him a chance, which I am sure he will. When he comes back to Selhurst, I am sure he will get a great reception from the fans and players."

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Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway prior to kick off against Brighton on May 13, 2013
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