Derry captain Gerard O’Kane, who played through the pain barrier against Carlow in the first round of the All Ireland football Qualifiers a fortnight ago, is in fine fettle for tomorrow’s important second round tie against Westmeath at Cusack Park, Mullingar.
The defender, who has served his county in several defensive roles in the past, found himself stationed at full-back in the first-half against Carlow before moving out to centre-half-back.
He battled on, despite a hamstring tweak, as Derry were already without some key defenders including Kevin McGuckin.
If everything came right for Damian Cassidy’s side in the end, it was because of the efficiency of an attack in which Eoin Bradley, who scored 1-6 in a superb solo show, was again a shining light.
Now O’Kane is hoping to spearhead the Oak Leaf resistance against opponents who will have recently absent dangerous duo Denis Glennon and Dessie Dolan restored to their attack.
“We have injuries at the moment but there is still a good spirit within the side and if we could get another win under our belts this would give us an added boost and help to take us further along the Qualifier route,” says O’Kane.
“There was quite a lull from we played Armagh in the Ulster Championship until we met Carlow but now that we have that game behind us we can maybe be even sharper.”
With Fergal Doherty and Patsy Bradley out, Joe Diver and Enda Muldoon are likely to serve at midfield while James Kielt, Declan Mullan, Raymond Wilkinson and Bradley will be key forwards.
Westmeath floundered in the Leinster Championship semi-final against Louth and this will be their first Qualifier tie. They suffered relegation to Division Three of the National League after a disastrous campaign which culminated in the departure of manager Brendan Hackett. He was succeeded by long-serving player Pat Flanagan who is currently serving as interim manager.
Westmeath have received another setback now that experienced defender Derek Heavin has been detained in the Mater Hospital, Dublin with a potentially career-threatening knee injury sustained in the defeat by Louth.
DERRY: B Gillis, B McAlary, K McGuckin, D McBride, M Craig, G O'Kane(capt), C Kielt; J Diver, E Muldoon, C McKeever,J Kielt, B McGoldrick, E Bradley,M Lynch, R Wilkinson.