Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

O'Kane has some extra motivation in rare Croke visit

Derry defender Gerard O'Kane has a special reason for hoping that his team come out on top in Sunday's Allianz League Division Two final against Westmeath at Croke Park.

Ten years ago O'Kane led St Patrick's College Maghera to the Hogan Cup and the school replicated that feat earlier this month at Croke Park.

Now O'Kane believes that a Derry triumph on Sunday would mark a significant double coup for the Oak Leaf county. The St Patrick's side includes several players from the Watty Graham, Glen club which won the Ulster Minor club tournament earlier this year and who will be in the Derry side for the forthcoming Ulster Minor Championship.

It's this platoon of fresh talent that gives O'Kane and his more experienced colleagues in the Derry side cause for optimism for the future.

They have endured their fair share of heartbreaks in Derry's colours, none more so than in the 2011 Ulster final defeat by Donegal (1-11 to 0-8) when the team contrived to shoot itself in the foot.

Then last year again faced Donegal in the provincial championship and lost at Ballybofey.

Now O'Kane, a former skipper of the side, is anxious to see the county acquire fresh respect on Sunday.

When they met Westmeath earlier this month, Derry cantered to victory because of the paucity of opposition they faced on that occasion.

But it won't be like that on Sunday.

Westmeath manager Pat Flanagan has considerably strengthened his side, particularly up front where marked shortcomings were revealed in the Celtic Park meeting between the sides.

And it is a measure of the talent he has at his disposal that he can afford to leave skipper Kieran Gavin and long-serving forward Dessie Dolan out of his starting line-up.

Gavin has been recovering from injuries received in an accident at work while Dolan, so often the team's top scorer in recent years and an accomplished free-taker, has been fighting to get back to full fitness following an injury.

Denis Glennon and Ciaran Curley return to the attack with the former in particular likely to cause problems for the Oak Leaf defence.

One of the best forwards in the country as a whole, Glennon is a strong, bustling player who will enjoy playing on the wide open spaces of Croke Park.

Westmeath had not been among the favourites to gain promotion from Division Two but their consistency allied with sharp competition for places have certainly stood them in good stead since the start of the league.

Like Derry, they are strangers to silverware and will be very keen to maximise their rare appearance at Headquarters.

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