When Derry minor hurlers take the field for Saturday’s Celtic Challenge quarter-final against Offaly, there will be a Castledawson connection in the form of Dara O’Kane and Aidan Mullan.

With hurling starting in Loup (St Finbarr’s), Claudy and also having a foothold in Ballerin, green shoots of the game appearing across the county is exactly where the long-term Derry hurling future lies.

The wider the base, the higher the pyramid.

Seated in the dressing room before going through another training session under Kevin Kelly, Martin Birt and Ryan O’Neill is one of Castledawson’s protégés, Dara O’Kane.

“I played for ‘Screen at U8 and quit for a couple of years,” he began.  “Then there was word of a hurling club starting in Castledawson and that is what happened.”

Former Derry player Paddy Henry, along with his brothers Peter and Chrissy dug the foundations and last year they reached their first milestone – an U14 B championship win with a 4-6 to 2-1 win over Banagher.

“It was the camogie ones that were on to him (Paddy) about starting it up.  Then him, Peter and Chrissy started it up and there were good enough numbers at the start,” Dara outlined of his involvement since ‘day one’.

“Paddy said he’d take me back if the ‘Dawson get a senior side, but we’ll see how that goes.” Dara O’Kane

“It began with the U10s and by U14 we were playing in the Féile and last year we were in the championship at U16.”

This year with dwindling numbers, he is back hurling again with Ballinascreen minors and is now part of the Derry setup.

“Paddy said he’d take me back if the ‘Dawson get a senior side, but we’ll see how that goes.  It would be nice to see Castledawson progressing and getting a few teams going again.”

Like the rest of the Derry squad, exams figure on O’Kane’s horizon and his hopes are to go into the world of barbering.

But for now it is all about hurling and after a campaign with St Patrick’s Maghera’s Forresters hurling team, he decided to extend his hurling comeback.

“We were beaten by Garron Tower in the semi-final.  We beat St Louis Ballymena (earlier in the campaign) which was a good victory for us.  Our year group wouldn’t have been the strongest,” Dara outlined.

On the county scene the season has fared much better, as he concluded.

“It is good, we haven’t lost yet and we have the quarter-final now so we’ll see how that goes.”

For a full feature on Derry minors hurlers, get Tuesday's County Derry Post.

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