By Michael McMullan
ONE look at Pádraig O’Kane and it’s hard to fathom he has another two full years at the minor grade.
He has the frame to carry the performance he put in on Sunday. He typified Dungiven’s “don’t stop” mantra they needed in abundance.
His error may have handed Seanán Carr an early goal chance that came back off the bar, but it was water off O’Kane’s back. It was all about the next play. He carried ball, kicked passed and had the positional sense to always be in the right place at the right time. Every successful team needs a Pádraig O’Kane.
“It is the dirty work that gets you over the line and that’s what we brought today,” said O’Kane, speaking like someone giving post-match interviews for years. “We knew we were going to bring it. We knew it was going to be tough and it was.”
It has been a season to remember for O’Kane who captained St Patrick’s Maghera to Forresters Cup glory, but Sunday tops it all.
“It is the best of the best because it is with all the friends you grew up playing with from you were six years old,” he said of Sunday’s winning feeling.
“It’s even more enjoyable because you know them since they were wains and now to be running around winning Ulsters with them, it is different.”
— Michael McMullan (@malmcmullan) January 1, 2023
While Darach McGonigle picked up the Man of the Match award and Eoin Higgins was voted as Player of the Tournament, O’Kane’s performances didn’t go unnoticed.
He was presented with the Eddie Fitzsimmons Memorial Spirit Award, chosen by the group of referees for leadership and behaviour on the pitch across all three of Dungiven’s games.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. His late father James was a highly popular teacher in St Patrick’s Maghera and a driving force for hurling in the school.
Despite still in the u-15 grade, O’Kane played with a calmness beyond his years and said it was “not that hard” to fit into an older group.
“Physically, it is very demanding but all older boys make it so easy to come in and they are all so well-mannered to the younger ones,” he said, while also saying the group would “crack you up” with all the banter at training.
“They are there by your side and always sticking up for you. It’s not hard at all, whenever you have the right people around you, you can do anything.”
While Dungiven had to ride the early Four Masters storm in the second half, it was their persistence that stood to them.
“There wasn’t a moment that comes into my head,” O’Kane said of how the momentum swung in his side’s favour.
“We just always keep going and if we do we’ll always get somewhere. We kept going and got back into it and got over the line so we are happy enough.”
“My team next year would not be a strong, but Dungiven might have found a new motto – to never stop going – and that could stick with us next year if we put the work in and get the heads down.”