New Derry skipper Gerard O’Kane has found a novel way of preparing for Sunday’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup clash with Antrim at Casement Park.
The 25-year-old defender, his county’s outstanding player by a considerable distance last year, will step into the boxing ring tomorrow night in front of a sell-out crowd at the Carrickdale Hotel on the Armagh-Louth border to swap punches with Kevin Dyas, who just recently returned to the Orchard County fold following an extended spell in Australian Rules football.
And O’Kane, one of several high-profile GAA personalities who will switch codes for the evening, is hoping to land a double weekend sporting coup.
“I have been doing some sparring lately and while I would in no way consider myself a boxing aficionado, I hope that I have mastered the basics of the sport sufficiently to allow me to give a decent account of myself,” says accounts manager O’Kane.
And he goes on: “Obviously I would be very pleased to get the verdict over Kevin and I would certainly be further heartened if Derry could get off to a winning start to 2010 on Sunday.
“We have been working hard over the past fortnight to build up fitness levels and with matches to come this month against Down and Queen’s after Sunday, we know that we face a tough programme.
“But if we could reach the semi-final, this would give us at least one extra match and that would be very beneficial in terms of our preparations for the National League in which we will meet Tyrone in our first match early next month.”
O’Kane, who helped Glenullin win their first Derry senior championship title in a quarter of a century in 2008, may yet be joined on tomorrow night’s bill by his Oak Leaf colleague Paddy Bradley, whose father Liam, the Antrim manager, has already articulated his desire to see his native county’s wings clipped on Sunday.
“Paddy is due to fight Aidan O’Rourke, the former Armagh player who won an All Ireland medal in 2002, but I believe he may have an injury,” says O’Kane, whose own father Gerard snr is a former chairman of the Derry county board.
The ambitious Dromintee club in south Armagh will host tomorrow night’s event which has been sold out for the past week although the clamour for tickets continues.
And while some of Ulster’s most high-profile players will embrace the pugilistic art for a few hours, there will be huge interest in the special bout between the country’s leading referee Pat McEnaney and former Meath player and ex-Monaghan manager Colm Coyle.
Dromintee chairman Peter Fearon says: “Boxing tournaments have been growing in popularity among our clubs and counties and they are already seen as an invaluable source of revenue. It is our aim to install a floodlit 3G pitch and tomorrow night’s show will go some way towards helping to finance this particular project.”