IF you ever needed to know how much winning an Ulster Club title means to the players of St. Joseph’s, Craigbane, look no further than Cathal O’Kane.
Michael Wilson reports
Twenty-seven minutes into last Saturday’s Intermediate final against Armagh’s Culloville at Healy Park Omagh, the 26-year old half-forward suffered a broken jaw following a challenge that saw Colm Watters sent off for a second bookable offence. O’Kane played on.
In fact, it was not until the celebrations following what was the club’s second Provincial victory had died down on Tuesday morning that O’Kane finally succumbed to the pain and admitted himself to Altnagelvin hospital. X-rays confirmed the break and the former St. Columb’s College student underwent an operation on Wednesday morning to have a steel plate inserted.
That’s how much the Ulster title means in Craigbane!
“I knew straight away there was something wrong,” admits the Axa Insurance employee.
“My jaw was very sore but I wanted to play on. There was no way I wanted to come off. It was a high tackle and might have been a straight red but the adrenaline probably got me through it.
“I remember the incident well. I had the ball and think I misplaced a touch slightly but I could see the Culloville player coming out of the corner of my eye. I managed to get to the ball first and flick it to Marty McGinty and the Culloville man caught me with his elbow.
“I knew right away I might be in trouble and it took me a few minutes to get myself sorted but I was able to get a bit of movement in it and there was no way I was going off. Our physio and referee both asked me if I needed to come off but that was not in my mind.
“It was very painful afterwards and for the next couple of days I could not really eat or chew properly. There’s no doubt had the game been a league game I probably would have gone off because I knew I wasn’t 100%.”
So does the former Derry All Ireland winning minor panellist regret his decision to play on?
“I’m on painkillers but it has not been as sore since I had the operation on Wednesday morning. It’s still very swollen but the adrenalin of the occasion must have carried me through.
“I will be back in hospital next Thursday to have another x-ray and I have not really been able to eat much more than soup so far but I don’t regret playing on for one second. There was no way I was coming off.
“The celebrations were fantastic. I think the whole of Craigbane were back in the clubhouse after the game.”
Saturday was O’Kane’s second Ulster Intermediate club medal after he appeared as a substitute in the ‘Lily Whites’ 2001 win over Monaghan champions Inniskeen.
“I was 16 back in 2001 and came on as a sub in the first Ulster win but yes, we had a really good team that year and were a bit disappointed we never got a chance to go on and compete for an All Ireland so our aim this year is to go all the way.
“I have only been chatting to a few of the lads since discovering that it was broken but they have been asking how I was and I suppose - if there is such a thing - the injury came at a good time because I have a few weeks to recover.”
The Ulster victory caps what has been a dream season for Craigbane who must be strong favourites for the ‘Club of the Year’ title having won both the Derry and Ulster Championship titles and clinched promotion to senior football as well as officially opening a new £500,000 sports pavilion at the club.
“All year we have had a great belief in ourselves and what we were trying to do. We never panicked even though there were times we were under pressure. The Drumsurn game in the county championship was a big turning point for us with the way we came back. That was probably when we started thinking we could win it. We couldn’t have had a better season.
“The lads will have a week or two off now but then it will be about preparing for the All Ireland semi-final. By the time the semi-final comes around most of the other teams will be back in pre-season for next year so we will probably have an almost continuous season but we’re not complaining about it and we’re looking forward to senior football.”
David Lowry picked up broken ribs in the final and must be considered doubtful for the All Ireland semi-final in January but O’Kane, who scored a point despite his injury, is determined to be ready.
“I did get a point myself which put us into the lead at the time and it was great to get a score in an Ulster final but the most important thing was getting the win.
“I can talk freely with the plate in but I’m still very conscious of the fact it’s there. The doctors have said hopefully four to six weeks will see it sorted but I’m determined to be ready for the semi-final, whoever we get.
“It doesn’t really matter who we are up against because at this stage you are never going to know a lot about your opposition. It is always going to be a bit of unknown territory but our confidence is high and we won’t fear anyone,” added O’Kane.