Sean O’Kane – a special teacher and a special friend
In 27 years, I don’t think I’ve argued with anyone as much as with Sean O’Kane.
I mean, how can anyone seriously tell me that Jackie McNamara was a better footballer than Ryan Giggs?
It was 1995 and we were in the canteen at St. Columb’s College on Buncrana Road, and he was adamant. One thing about Sean was that he was still passionate and always stuck to his guns, even though the truth was staring him straight in the face. “I’m telling you Gary, he’s a much better player. Giggs is overrated. And I’ll tell you something else – any team that signs John Collins will win the Premier League.
He actually said those words to me!
Even now, when I try to swallow the lump in my throat while writing about my friend, I have to laugh and shake my head at this statement. John Collins then joined Everton and he never, ever approached the Premier League title.
We were both in our mid teens, and the only thing that really mattered at this point was football. It was the days of Oasis and Blur, when the internet didn’t exist, and your mood depended on how your team fared on the weekends.
Sean was Celtic through and through, just as I was Manchester United, and we rarely, if ever, agreed on things on the pitch.
I think it was the fact that we agreed on so many things off the pitch that made us become friends. We were huge WWE fans, and while we weren’t lost in conversations about what Stone Cold Steve Austin did to Vince McMahon one week, we were laughing at what The Rock said the following week. We were true wrestling geeks, a trait that bonded us for 20 years after leaving St. Columb’s, and if I ever needed to talk about anything wrestling, Sean was the one to talk to. .
We also spent days, weeks and months playing football after school or during summer vacation when his family moved to Fernabbey; he, his brother Fergal, and sometimes his sisters Ciara and Eireann (I don’t think Colleen was born yet), would meet us all at the Youth Club in Lenamore and we would pass the hours. On the weekends it got more serious and we would go to the gravel courts of the Sports Complex, before walking back together, barging in, complaining and laughing all the time.
Sean has always been an older head on younger shoulders. He consoled me and explained to me my undying love for a teacher in St. Columb’s during those early years. Needless to say, I’m mortified looking back, but when I look through my fingers at this dastardly time in my life, I remember Sean there, telling me that she was a married woman and that I had to. know, in its unique way of course.
Oh and his coat! For some reason, his parents bought him this large warm winter coat, decorated with the Celtic crest. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for some totally bizarre reason, on this coat designed for the Baltic weather, the arms were detachable with a zipper. I mean, why? It became the bane of Sean’s existence as we used to take arms off and hide them and he would have to wander around the school looking for them. But he loved this coat!
Sean and I were also among the few people in the school who, at the age of 18 – on the exact same day – refused to drink alcohol. I’ve never been so interested and he was the same, but it has lasted about as long as a Celtic title challenge these days as our other classmates – Colm McCloskey, Neal Sharkey, Paul McColgan , Gerard Gray and Piaras O ‘Donaghalie got their hands on him. Before you know it, Sean was living a life and a hangover, and this innocent 18-year-old teetotaler has been lost in history.
Life took us in a different direction for a few years later but it was Derry City FC that brought us back into the same circles. I was a junior reporter for the Derry News, and Stephen Kenny was taking the squad’s spots after years of struggling. Like any true Derry conductor, Sean decided to come see what it was about, bringing his good friend Damien Tracey with him. The fact that her sister Ciara was playing for Derry City Ladies and dating Gareth McGlynn may also have something to do with it.
For a number of years we still met at games and relished a rich time for the Candystripes. It got to the stage where we made a bet together – Derry City to win 3-0 in every game. I remember such a match, City led 2-0 and won a penalty. Mark Farren stepped forward to hit him and he missed it! Sean wasn’t amused, but luckily Liam Kearney led a late one and we were thrilled, doing everything we called Farrenso!
I clicked so well with Sean, but I could never be as blunt as him. He didn’t hesitate to hold back his opinion and I always marveled at it, just because I couldn’t. I’m sure his colleagues and students at St. Joseph’s know what I’m talking about; he was so interesting, and he never failed to make me laugh with his witty observations and devastating disparagement.
The fact that Damien and Sean are gone weighs heavily on me now. I was driving on Saturday night and was struck by how I wouldn’t hear Sean’s voice anymore, or read his texts when he called Scott Brown a crook or Neil Lennon a joke, or talk about whoever. had bored him that week.
Sean was able to accompany me to Brandywell twice last year, for games against Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United, and I’m so glad that happened. I know he loved these games, and I loved his company, and we laughed at the silly things like we always did.
I can’t pretend to be Sean’s best friend, and I don’t know if he would describe me as a friend or an acquaintance, but the fact that I could always text him about stupid stuff was something I did. have always enjoyed it.
I was on the outskirts of his life in the sense that I wasn’t dating him or being a part of his fights as he fought and fought and fought his fights, but I always considered him a friend, and I’m so sad he’s gone.
I have been in this position for almost 17 years and I would always ask him to correct my titles and if this or that sentence was grammatically correct. He called himself “grammar cranky”, just like me, which brings to mind another memory. We were in Wexford for the 2008 League Cup final, and in the bar for the celebrations that followed, another friend of mine looked on with emotion, while Sean and I complained about people’s grammar. It was ridiculous, but that’s how we were together.
Football, WWE and grammar.
I know Sean was so well regarded in St. Joseph’s, in Tristar, and far beyond both in local circles. We were born on the exact same day – March 25, 1980 – and maybe that is why I have always felt so strongly connected to him. But we were linked by so much more than our date of birth, and for that I am grateful and for that I will remember him forever.
Others may tell better stories and others will have been much closer to Sean than I have, and I can only imagine how they feel today. The students who paid tribute to him on Facebook had a wonderful teacher – not just someone who knew the difference between a comma and an apostrophe, but who was ready to talk to them, tell them stories, give them advice, to connect. with them on a human level. This kind of teacher is not that easy to find, believe me.
These students are the luckiest.
His best friends, who have spent so many hours with him in good times and bad, are the lucky ones,
His family, who accompanied him every step of the way, who made him laugh, who made him strong, who took care of him, consoled and supported him in these difficult days, they are the lucky ones. .
Having known him even a little made me lucky.
It’s so hard to say goodbye to you Sean, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll say thank you so much for arguing with me all these years and making me laugh so often.
And for the record, it took him 25 years, but he finally admitted he was wrong about Jackie McNamara. Better late than never.
The page is blurry now as I write these last few lines with tears in my eyes, but I’m pretty sure Sean is re-reading this shaking his head at any spelling or grammar mistakes I have. surely committed. I would expect nothing less from one of the best people I have ever known.
Thanks for everything Sean.
Till we Meet Again.