Gerard O'Kane makes his case for the defence
Former Derry captain Gerard O'Kane is preparing for one of the biggest challenges of his career to date.
The Glenullin clubman has spent over a decade in the Derry senior side but on Sunday he will line out against Mayo at centre-half-back in Croke Park for the first time.
O'Kane, one of only a handful of survivors from the Derry side that last won the Allianz League title in 2008 when they beat Kerry in the decider, has worn the No 6 shirt in the last three league games. And such has been the level of his performances that manager Brian McIver has no hesitation in placing him at the heart of his defence for a confrontation with Mayo that will be lightyears removed from last Sunday's tame meeting between the sides.
Along with only Fergal Doherty and skipper Mark Lynch, O'Kane knows the warm feeling associated with taking delivery of a 2008 league medal – and he would have no objection to re-living this experience. "Obviously it's great for Derry to be going back to Croke Park," he enthuses.
"Our manager is delighted that we are back there because it will form part of our preparation for the forthcoming Ulster Championship. We aim to win and book our place in the league final against Dublin or Cork."
O'Kane has played at right-full-back and wing-back in recent years for Derry but injury restricted his involvement with the side last year.
He was still conspicuous by his absence earlier this year but since his return he has made a decisive impact. Indeed, his resumption of duties has provided manager McIver with a two-fold bonus.
Not only does O'Kane bring a quiet yet clearly palpable authority to the defence but his installation at centre-half-back means that Mark Lynch has beengiven a more attacking role.
DERRY: T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, D McBride; K Johnston, G O'Kane, S L McGoldrick; F Doherty, P Bradley; C McFaul, M Lynch, E Lynn; B Heron, E McGuckin, C O'Boyle.