Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Derry star Gerard in frame for title tilt

Gerard O’Kane has had no cause to regret the fact that he returned from a winter safari to Australia a trifle sooner than expected.

And certainly Derry manager Damian Cassidy has every reason to be grateful that the lure of home and his love of football encouraged the 24-year-old defender to resume life in the north-west.

For hardly had Gerard touched down at Aldergrove, than he was being parachuted into the Derry side as a substitute in the opening National League game against Mayo and since then he has helped to prop up the rearguard en route to the league decider.

Right now, the trainee solicitor is preparing for Sunday’s important Ulster Championship clash against Monaghan conscious of the fact that there will be additional pressure on the Oak Leaf defence now that Sean Martin Lockhart and Niall McCusker will be conspicuous by their absence.

“I have experienced a dislocated shoulder myself in the recent past and I always have synmpathy with any player who misses out because of injury. Having said that, we have to get on with the job and try and get over Monaghan,” says Gerard whose dad Gerard (snr) is Derry ’s Central Council delegate.

It’s from the left-full-back position that Gerard hopes to spearhead the resistance against Monaghan on Sunday although he is comfortable in most defensive locations, having turned in some particularly impressive displays at centre-half-back and right-half-back in the past.

It’s eleven years since Derry last won the Ulster crown and that’s viewed as a hugely embarrassing famine by the Derry fans.

To add insult to injury from their perspective, Armagh and Tyrone have dominated the Ulster scene, with the Orchard County lifting seven of the last ten titles that have been on offer.

“Obviously the absence of an Ulster title has occasioned a sense of frustration but the players, more than any other group of people, know how much success is yearned for. We will certainly be doing our utmost to get over this first hurdle on Sunday and then maybe press on from there,” says Gerard.

It will be a huge task for Derry - but the rather pleasant trappings of Australia would still come a poor second in Gerard’s book to the white heat of Celtic Park.

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