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O'Kane out to mark return with title triumph

By John Campbell

A decade separates Gerard O'Kane and Ryan Bell in terms of age but both players are pursuing the same goal as the Derry Senior Championship hots up.

O'Kane (28) has been at the heart of the Oak Leaf County defence for several years but injury precluded his involvement in this year's championship campaign in which the team lost to Down in the Ulster series before bowing out of the qualifiers to Cavan.

But while O'Kane experienced the frustration of watching from the stands, 19-year-old Ryan Bell served notice that he could become a fixture in Brian McIver's side for some time to come through the quality of his performances at midfield.

This weekend, a fully-fit O'Kane and an ever-improving Bell will focus strongly on their club commitments in the hope of gaining a measure of consolation for their respective setbacks during the summer.

O'Kane will once again be a defensive anchor for Glenullin when they meet Lavey in the quarter-finals while Bell will have a key role in the Ballinderry side that will square up to Kilrea.

In the remaining quarter-finals Loup will take on Eoghan Rua, Coleraine while Dungiven face Ballinascreen.

O'Kane's experience, energy and leadership were pronounced when Glenullin stunned fancied Slaughtneil at the weekend, a result that has further copper-fastened resolve for the confrontation with Lavey.

But the seasoned campaigner is taking nothing for granted.

"The Derry title is invariably very tough to win and although we managed this feat a few years ago, we would like to prove to ourselves that we can do it all over again," states O'Kane.

"You have to keep challenging yourself and the win over Slaughtneil has provided us with a big spur to try and move on."

Eoin Bradley, Paddy Bradley and Rory Boylan are other important players in the Glenullin line-up.

Bell, meanwhile, will help form the fulcrum of a Ballinderry side that will be without cruciate ligament injury victim Raymond Wilkinson for the clash with a Kilrea side that is now managed by former Derry, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal boss Mickey Moran.

Collie Devlin, Conleith Gilligan, Aaron Devlin, Kevin McGuckin and Ryan Scott are other key players in a Ballinderry side that won the All-Ireland club title in 2002 when current Derry manager Brian McIver was in charge.

Kilrea have not quite managed to achieve a high level of consistency but nevertheless boast quality players in Charlie Kielt, James Kielt and sharpshooter Lee Kennedy who has been making waves in the Derry senior side.

Dungiven, now managed by the McKeever brothers Emmet and Ciaran, will be favourites to get the better of Ballinascreen particularly as Mark Craig and Kevin Johnston have been showing fine form, although Benny Heron and Dermot McBride will be in the vanguard of Ballinascreen's challenge.

And Loup will hope to take a big step forward by getting the better of Coleraine Eoghan Rua for whom former county team captain Barry McGoldrick is back to his best form.

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