O’Keefe signs for Eagles

GISLINGHAM’S Stuart O’Keefe can’t wait to get going at Crystal Palace after a surprise transfer to the Championship club this week.

The 19-year-old midfielder, who has moved from financially-troubled Southend United, could even be in line to play a part against his former club Ipswich Town tomorrow.

And if specualtion is to be believed, the former Hartismere High School pupil could soon be learning from Holland legend Edgar Davids, who is reported to be next to follow O’Keefe through the Selhurst Park door.

Of his free transfer, confirmed on Wednesday, O’Keefe said: “It is a great feeling. To be fair I have been at Southend for quite a while and they have had their problems and to go to an established Championship club like Crystal Palace is very big and refreshing.”

“Dougie Freeman was there (at Southend) last year as a player with me and I was close to him and Dean Austin was the reserve team coach last year and both (now at Crystal Palace) had a big part to play.

“I cannot wait to get going.”

O’Keefe, who has signed a one-year deal at Selhurst Park, has already been told by his new manager his tender age will not be an obstacle to him playing in England’s second tier.

He said: “I spoke to George Burley on the Friday and he said ‘obviously Dougie rates you and you know I am willing to give youngsters a chance, if you are good enough there is no reason why you will not play here’.

“I know it is going to be hard for me but my targets are to do well in training and to be amongst the first team and hopefully get involved.

“I have not seen Edgar Davids yet but if he did come he would be a great player to learn from.”

Crystal Palace, who have picked up three points from six in their opening two league games, face O’Keefe’s former club at home on Saturday, with a growing number of Ipswich connections running through their own team.

“Ipswich is where I started out and hopefully I can do enough this week in training to get into the squad and then get a few minutes on the pitch,” said O’Keefe.

“Owen Garvan, Lewis Price and Alan Lee were all at Ipswich when I was so I feel more at ease.”

The young midfielder, who currently lives in Gislingham with his parents, said they have been delighted at his progress.

“My parents are very proud. They have played a big part in my career,” said O’Keefe.

The former Eye schoolboy joined Ipswich as a nine-year-old but was released from the academy at the age of 15. He then went on trial with Aston Villa and Nottingham Forrest, but the contracts offered did not provide the security of a scholarships after completing his GCSEs, which he got at Southend United. He made his first team debut for the Shrimpers in the 2-0 FA Cup win against Telford in November, 2008, going on to make 10 appearances.