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Bruising duels are tough on Derry's Gerard O'Kane

By Declan Bogue

Another crushing defeat for Derry, made all the more depressing by the optimism of the promise shown before the Championship kicked in. Back in December, they were picking up the O'Fiaich Cup.

In January they made it to the semi-finals of the McKenna Cup before a quite remarkable league campaign back in the top flight brought a landmark win over Dublin, before they lost to the same side in the final.

However, an off-colour day against Donegal was immediately followed by a rush of club league games that robbed them entirely of certain starters, and hampered others, such as Dermot McBride, Emmet McGuckin, Patsy Bradley, Ryan Bell and Gerard O'Kane.

That last one is an interesting addition to the list. As the son of a former County board chairman, O'Kane grew up in a house aware of the difficulties in catering for all levels of football, not to mention the hurling scene in Derry.

Asked if the club football schedule is detrimental to the aspirations of the county team, he answered: "I suppose you have to strike a balance somewhere and I certainly wouldn't blame the county board for it. The county board has to facilitate football for 700-odd people in the county."

Brian McIver was offering no excuses for the defeat after the game, but when your injury list is so extensive, then perhaps others should retain some level of understanding of what they were up against.

Playing for Glenullin, who are managed by his brother Michael, the 29-year-old O'Kane hurt himself three weeks ago and was only togging out on Saturday in case they found themselves in bother. Within 14 minutes he replaced Aidan McAlynn, who was awarded a black card.

Playing through the pain barrier wasn't ideal, as he explained: "We lost a few more men just to persistent injuries; men playing through them and they eventually catch up with you.

"I don't think anyone who doesn't play county football can appreciate just how hard it is to recover from a game. I'm 29 and I literally will have trouble putting on my socks the morning after a game and I'm not right for three or four days.

"Now, I might have a lot of miles on the clock compared to some players but I know the boys at 21 or 22 find it hard to get over a game as well."

"We've had four weeks (since Donegal) and in that time most have played three or four league games."

While this Derry team have their own identity, there is a sense that they still to some extent suffer from their strong club scene. The willingness of players to make themselves available for as many club fixtures as possible runs contrary to anecdotes in other successful counties.

O'Kane shares an anecdote in that regard: "I went to university with boys from Armagh and Tyrone in '04 or '05, when they were at their peak.

"I remember boys like Brian Mallon telling me they had 16 league games and he probably played three or four. That was the height of it when Armagh were winning seven out of 10 Ulsters.

"We have 16 league games and I would play 12 or 13 of them. Had we won here we would have been out in a club league game on Wednesday night.

"My brother is our club manager and he acknowledged he would be seeing very little of me and if I have trained twice with the club this year, that would be it.

"I know players from teams are dining at the top table year in year out would play very little club football. We play a fair bit but, again, the county board has to look out for football for everyone so it is difficult to find that balance."

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