SOUTHEND United’s head of youth Ricky Duncan has spoken of his pride after former Blues youngster Stuart O’Keefe helped Crystal Palace win the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

O’Keefe joined the Shrimpers aged 16 and spent four seasons at Roots Hall before joining the Eagles.

And Duncan admitted it was a fantastic feeling to see the 22-year-old midfielder help Ian Holloway’s side beat Watford 1-0 in Monday’s final which was played in front of 82,000 fans.

“From day one we knew Stuart was a big talent and it was superb to see him playing in such a big game and doing well,” said Duncan.

“I spoke to his dad after the game and he was rightfully very proud of what Stuart has achieved and we are too because we’ve played a part in that development.

“When you’re working in youth football it’s always an amazing feeling when a player you have worked with goes on to play in first team football.

“But for Stuart to play in a game like that and win promotion to the Premier League made it very special indeed.

“I was watching on TV and thought he played very well, but the club’s physio, Ben Clarkson, was actually at the game and said he was jumping up and down because he was so happy for Stuart.”

O’Keefe came to Southend after being released by Ipswich Town and went on to play 13 times for the first team.

But he opted to leave the club in the summer of 2010 when his contract was breached after not being paid on time.

“Dean Austin and Dougie Freedman were at Palace at the time and they knew all about his talents having also been here, so they decided to bring him in,” said Duncan.

“He did well in the matches he had here but for whatever reason he wasn’t able to break through at that time.

“Stuart was always very driven and single-minded and he was different to a lot of the other lads in that regard.

“He didn’t want to be seen as a youth player and was also very focused on what he wanted to achieve.”

O’Keefe will now be hoping to kick on and feature in more big matches for Palace, while Duncan will be turning his attention towards bringing through more talented youngsters.

“We’ve brought them some good players in the last few years with Stuart, Franck Moussa, Kane Ferdinand and Michael Ngoo all doing well at a good level,” said Duncan.

“Lyle Della-Verde is pushing on at Fulham now and Dominic Iorfa is doing the same at Wolves.

“Mitch Pinnock has signed a pro deal here and we’re waiting for others to do the same, but we now want the next batch of players coming through to also do well and succeed for Southend United.”