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Antrim's O'Boyle: Raising focus is our aim

By Declan Bogue

An Antrim Ulster Championship win is a rare thing, but when it happens you can be sure that Kevin O'Boyle is not very far away.

Back in 2009, it was O'Boyle who stepped up to fire over the decisive point from distance when the game hung in the balance and earn Antrim their first Championship win against Donegal since 1970.

And a few weeks back, Fermanagh had clawed back an Antrim lead of 10 points in the last 10 minutes of the game, to be two points adrift heading into the closing play of the game.

Tommy McElroy sent in a high ball from a sideline, Sean Quigley knocked it down and set Ryan McCluskey through for an unlikely shot at glory.

McCluskey took his time and waited for goalkeeper Patrick Flood to commit. He placed his cushioned shot beyond Flood, but not past O'Boyle, who hooked it off the line, practically on the final whistle.

"I just covered the keeper. I didn't realise it was going to be the eventual last play of the game. I was just fortunate that I was in the right position at the right time," recalls the 26-year-old Cargin clubman.

He was generous in his praise of Flood, who endured a difficult debut for Antrim, continuing: "Paddy has just come into the panel and has done excellent, he is a good shot-stopper and I think he had closed off the angle so it was the only real position he could go far.

"I am glad he didn't put much more power behind it and I was able to get a foot on it."

A schoolteacher in Holy Trinity in Cookstown, O'Boyle made four starts in the league as Antrim failed to make any impression in Division Four.

Yet he acknowledges that the standard in the bottom league, along with the ferocity of the challenges you meet, caught them unaware.

Still, they used their time between league and Championship wisely and it earned them their first Ulster win since 2009.

"You have six weeks to prepare for it and there's that thing where you have to prove people wrong," O'Boyle said.

"We know there's good enough footballers in our county, but you have to go out and produce it on the field. Thankfully, we did that, but we have to do it for the full 70 minutes against Donegal."

The defensive collapse at the end of either half will have alarmed Antrim and it was noticeable that they were very poor under a dropping ball, with Sean Quigley and Barry Owens both fielding and scoring goals as a result of the tactic.

With Donegal manager Jim McGuinness present at the back row of the John Vesey Stand, it wasn't ever going to be something that escaped his attention.

He knows he has the raw materials in Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden to trouble Antrim greatly.

After the Fermanagh game, O'Boyle could not ignore the elephant in the room, saying: "It's something that we are going to have to go back to the training ground and work on, focusing.

"Barry Owens, he is a big target man in there, as is Sean Quigley. It's good preparation for us and it's going to be a lot of hard work.

"He (Jim McGuinness) will be rubbing his hands, thinking that if they get 10 minutes like that they will run over the top of us so we are going to have to go back and go over it."

Michael Murphy won a Player of the Month award earlier in the week, after he turned it on in a 15-minute exhibition against Derry in the first round.

"The paradox of the award was that he won it off the back of this brief glimpse of his potential as a permanent full-forward.

"Word coming out of Donegal is he may be expected to spend more time up top.

"Those are the things that we are going to have to look at and get ourselves physically and mentally prepared for," answers O'Boyle.

Belfast Telegraph

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