It’s been a long league season of ever-diminishing returns for Derry, but as former captain Ger O’Kane said, the Championship can make optimists of us all.
From the first match against Galway, Derry were always struggling and trying to coax players off the treatment table as the injuries mounted up.
It meant that finding a settled team was a struggle all year long for their manager John Brennan.
“We were fielding a team on a Sunday that we didn’t realise until a Friday if boys were going to be fit or not,” recalled O’Kane.
“We were carrying a panel of 30 that had only 22 or 23 fit at any one time. Hopefully now we have a break for a few weeks and get all the injuries cleared up.”
The Glenullin man joined the list of the stricken himself, picking up a knee injury while at county training in their Owenbeg complex in early March.
That followed another injury that saw him withdrawn from the Dr McKenna Cup final against Tyrone back in January.
“I think originally I was told it would be 13 weeks, and the Championship game was 12 weeks from that, so I had set my sights on getting back for the Championship.
“So far, it’s going alright and hopefully I can get a couple of club games under my belt over the next couple of weeks to see how it goes,” he said.
Last season O’Kane lost out on his place when a thigh injury kept him out of the Ulster semi-final win over Armagh.
He had to get his head around not starting the Ulster final, which Derry lost to Donegal.
He admits that in his eagerness to regain his place, he could have forced the issue too much.
“I probably wanted to come back too early the last time,” he said.
“I have to say it wasn’t nice. Players have a fair idea of what the team is going to be in the two weeks leading up to the game, with the teams that are picked in training.
“I had a fair idea I wouldn’t be on, even though my fitness was coming back, it was good.
“When the team was announced on the Tuesday night, I was gutted, but I suppose you have to get over it.
“I had a chat with John (Brennan) on the Wednesday and the Friday, just to let him know.
“I suppose every player is optimistic like that,” he added.
“I felt I was ready to play. I made sure to tell John that the Sunday before.
“John appreciates it if you’re straight down the middle with him. I had a discussion with him on the Wednesday and the Friday just to say, ‘Look, any time you need me, my head’s in the right place, you can call upon me any time.’”
O’Kane made it back in time to start against Kildare in Croke Park but the weight of Ulster final defeat six days before was too much.