O'Kane hopes change is catalyst for success
Just two years have elapsed since Derry were in the Ulster final when they were beaten by Donegal (1-11 to 0-8) but since then the line-up has been completely transformed.
No fewer than ten players who started in Clones in that game – Danny Devlin, Kevin McGuckin, Ciaran Mullan, Barry McGoldrick, Joe Diver, Michael Friel, Enda Muldoon, Michael Bateson, Caolan O'Boyle and Conleith Gilligan – will play no part in Sunday's championship tie against Down at Celtic Park.
This seismic turnover in players has been precipitated by two factors – a catalogue of injuries and a 'new broom sweeps clean' policy adopted by influential manager Brian McIver.
Long-serving defender Gerard O'Kane, a former Derry captain, was introduced as a substitute by the then manager John Brennan in that provincial decider two years ago along with Martin Donaghy, P J McCloskey and Kevin McCloy – they, too, will be absentees on Sunday – and recalls the frustration that the team endured.
"Donegal hit us on the break with the goal they got but we had lived with them for a good part of the game," reflects O'Kane.
"Since Brian McIver's arrival, Derry has undergone a sea-change and there is now a momentum within the team that augers well for the championship.
"To be fair to John Brennan, he had to face a horrendous injury list that would have disheartened any manager.
"Several important players were out of the reckoning and that made his job very difficult indeed."
O'Kane will have a key role at the heart of the defence on Sunday and although at 28 he is regarded as a senior citizen in the Oak Leaf outfit.
However he still possesses a sharp turn of pace and is a tight, efficient man-marker who can invariably find time and space in which to break forward to support his attack.
"The fact that we have remained unbeaten under Brian at Celtic Park is a bonus but this guarantees us absolutely nothing in terms of Sunday's game," points out O'Kane.
"There have been some great battles between Derry and Down in the past and the feeling is that this game could well be another classic encounter. We are desperately keen to make an impact in the Ulster Championship because we have tended to flatter to deceive in recent seasons."
The 'prize' for the winners of Sunday's tie is a semi-final meeting with red-hot title favourites Donegal but neither McIver nor his Down counterpart James McCartan is looking beyond this weekend – and for obvious reasons, too.