O'Keeffe revelling in campaign buildup
The biggest game of Marlborough goalkeeper Michael O'Keeffe's football career may be upon him, but faith in meticulous preparation means excitement, not nerves, is his foremost emotion ahead of the Oly-Whites' opening Olympic Games match against Belarus tomorrow morning.
Speaking to the Express while inspecting the pristine City of Coventry Stadium pitch with his team-mates yesterday, exactly two days before kickoff, O'Keeffe said nerves were yet to really affect him and he was itching for the campaign to get under way.
"It's not so much nerves at the moment. The whole thing about preparing properly is that if you do it right you don't have anything to be nervous about, you can just be confident. I'm just excited to out get here and do it now.
"It's been a good week of training and thankfully the weather has turned it on. It's been nice and warm for us without any rain so its been perfect and the preparation has been really good. Just really looking forward to getting out here."
While O'Keeffe was selected in the 18-man New Zealand squad as the No 2 gloveman, there is a good chance he will start tomorrow's match.
First-choice keeper and close friend Jake Gleeson is carrying an injury and if he does not recover enough in time the Marlborough 21-year-old will start between the sticks against Belarus.
Oly-Whites coach Neil Emblen said yesterday they were giving Gleeson every opportunity to prove his fitness, but indicated if he was not 100 per cent they would probably not risk any further damage and give O'Keeffe the gloves.
O'Keeffe said the final team would probably not be named until the morning of the match, but if he was required to start he was certainly ready to do so.
"There hasn't been [any indication] at this stage. I've just been taking it day by day. He [Gleeson] has been participating in trainings fully and they are just trying to see how he pulls through. Regardless of his injury, the attitude I'm taking into it is that anything can happen, like what happened in the South Korea game. Mentally you've got to be prepared for anything."
Based in Coventry, about 150km north of London, during their buildup for the Belarus match, the Oly-Whites have missed out on the majority of the pre-Games buzz and atmosphere.
However, O'Keeffe reckoned that was probably a good thing.
"It's hard to tell because we are in a hotel with other teams. There's not too much of a Games buzz going on because it hasn't really started and we are a bit secluded from it. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, it allows us to focus completely on the job at hand."
Coverage of tomorrow's match begins on Sky Sport 5 at 6.35am and at 6am on Prime.
From Coventry the Oly-Whites travel to Manchester to play Egypt at Old Trafford late on Sunday night, before wrapping up pool play against Brazil in Newcastle early next Thursday morning.
The Marlborough Express