GAA Football

Antrim captain Kevin O'Boyle is my type of leader: Matthew Fitzpatrick

Matthew Fitzpatrick could be a key player for Antrim in 2018 Picture by Cliff Donaldson.

MATTHEW Fitzpatrick believes the Antrim footballers couldn’t expect to have a better captain and leader than Kevin O’Boyle as the Saffrons prepare for their opening NFL Division Four game against Leitrim in nine days’ time.

Fitzpatrick was full of praise for the Cargin defender following his return to the Antrim fold this season.

“For me, I don’t take heed of a leader when they’re speaking,” said Fitzpatrick.

“A leader, for me, is somebody like Kevin O’Boyle. He doesn’t have to say anything all year but when he goes on the pitch that’s where he does his talking. That’s the way I want to be.

“I don’t want to go over to a 19 or 20-year-old and tell them what they should and shouldn’t do. All they need to look to is Kevin O’Boyle who leads by example.”

Fitzpatrick showed his leadership qualities for both Antrim and St Mary’s in the latter's successful tilt at Sigerson glory last year.

Although he’s just turned 23, the St John’s man has the ability and temperament to be a key player in Antrim’s crack at promotion.

“If I can take my man on and get scores or get the ball up the pitch, that’s where I would see myself leading.

“I feel more confident in myself this year. With the more games you’re exposed to at county level and with the wee bit of success with St Mary’s, I just feel more sure about yourself.

“I don’t worry about criticism or failure – I just trust myself a bit more. I’ve just turned 23 and I buy into whatever the team is doing and put my head down.

“I wouldn’t be one for speeches or anything. But the more I play at this level, the more I feel I’m improving.”

A former youth team player with Irish League soccer club Glentoran, ‘Fitzy’ turned his attention to Gaelic football a couple of seasons ago and made a dramatic impact last season, leading Antrim’s front line.

Before Christmas, Ballymena United made tentative enquiries about signing the former central defender – but he was always resuming his Antrim career.

The St John’s man has targeted promotion out of Division Four and is already looking forward to their Ulster Championship showdown with Down in May.

“Our main goal is to win Division Four. We need to get out of Division Four but we’re there for a reason,” he said.

“The way the year has been going and the way we’re continuing to improve, we hope we can get out of the the division and then we can look forward to Down in the Ulster Championship. We’re playing them on a Saturday night in May – that’s why you’re playing Gaelic – for games like that.”

Although Antrim lost to both Tyrone and St Mary’s in the Dr McKenna Cup, they showed glimpses of their potential in a fine win over Cavan at Woodlands Park.

It’s no secret new boss Lenny Harbinson and his backroom team have worked hard on a new kick-out strategy – and Fitzy is confident it will pay dividends in 2018.

“Lenny’s set-up is very professional and his backroom team are very good. Lenny wants us to be thinking footballers to improve every time we go out. That’s what I like about him.

“If we can win 65 or 70 per cent of our kick-outs that could be the difference in games. When you get relegated by a single score as we did last year, winning an extra three kick-outs per match could be the difference in winning a match.

“Lenny is such a deep thinker, that’s the way he would be approaching things – you relieve pressure by winning your kick-outs and controlling the game. So I'm optimistic about this season."

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