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O'Boyle ready for a lead role as Canavan backs Saffrons skipper to show his class

New Antrim captain Kevin O'Boyle has not had to travel too far in a bid to seek inspiration for his team's Ulster senior football championship showdown with Donegal at Ballybofey on Sunday.

A matter of yards from where the 23-year-old O'Boyle teaches Maths and Science in Holy Trinity College, Cookstown, Tyrone legend Peter Canavan oversees a busy PE department.

And the man who captained the Red Hands to their first All-Ireland triumph in 2003 has been passing on some of his expertise and motivational nous to his younger teaching colleague.

While Canavan is understandably hopeful that Tyrone can make it three Ulster championship titles on the trot and perhaps go on to secure 'Sam' for the fourth in time in eight years, he is nonetheless proving hugely supportive to O'Boyle - and the latter is extremely grateful for that.

"This will be my first time to lead Antrim in a championship match and obviously I am looking forward to the experience," says O'Boyle. "Peter has given me plenty of advice with a particular warning that I should not allow the player whom I am marking to score! He is a person I have always looked up to and I am more than happy to take his advice on board."

For his part, Canavan suggests that Antrim's resilience and hunger can prove key assets.

"Kevin shows great determination and drive and will be in the vanguard of Antrim's mission," says the former Red Hands ace.

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While O'Boyle and Michael Murphy, his opposite number on Sunday, are among the two youngest county captains in the country - Murphy is still only 21 - the Cargin clubman feels that the presence of several experienced heads in the Antrim side will make his job as skipper more straightforward.

"We have boys like Michael McCann, Tony Scullion, Aodhan Gallagher, Kevin Brady and others who have been round a few corners. They are proving very helpful and our manager Liam Bradley has instilled a great spirit within the squad," states O'Boyle.

If Antrim's ongoing injury problems have tended to overshadow their preparations to some extent, O'Boyle feels that while the loss of players like the McGourty brothers CJ and Kevin along with Andrew McClean is undoubtedly a blow, the team as a whole will still step up to the plate on Sunday.

"Obviously there are a couple of players back again whom we would like to have seen gain more game time following their recovery from injuries but they are nonetheless fit for battle and raring to go," states O'Boyle.

"Championship football is a 20-man game now and we feel we have the resources to cope with the big challenge that Donegal, who after all are Division Two champions, will pose for us."

The emergence of players like Mark Sweeney, Conor Murray and Ricky Johnston has given the Saffrons an extra dimension and O'Boyle believes that this will prove crucial in the context of the Ballybofey showdown - a venue at which Antrim triumphed two years ago.

"Players like these have been given their chance in the league and have come through well. This gives us that little bit more confidence but our result there two years ago counts for nothing in the context of this Sunday's game," acknowledges O'Boyle.

He will share in the task of striving to curb Donegal's lethal twin strike force of skipper Murphy and Colm McFadden as well as seeking to keep a watchful brief on the dangerous Dermot 'Brick' Molloy.

"Donegal have already shown they have quality forwards and we know what we will be coming up against," adds O'Boyle who despite his tender years has been part of the Antrim squad for the best part of five years.

As such, he has poignant memories of their 2009 Ulster final defeat by Tyrone and relishes the prospect of reaching this year's provincial decider "so that we can show our true worth no matter who we would be playing against".

It's a noble ambition and given O'Boyle's steely resolve and fierce pride in the Saffron jersey on that he firmly believes is attainable.


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