Ahead of the Senior Footballers game against Trinity in the first round of the 2013 Sigerson Cup, case Sports Editor Conall Devlin speaks to one of the most respected footballers in the county, ampoule Mayo and UCD, forward Kevin McLoughlin.
UCD will go into tonight’s (Tuesday 29th) first round Sigerson Cup game against Trinity College with a firm favourite’s tag weighing on their shoulders. Trinity, managed by Down footballer Conor Laverty, return to the competition after having won the Trench Cup ‘B’ All Ireland last year but few expect them to advance against a UCD side boasting the likes of Kevin McLoughlin, Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll and Westmeath’s John Heslin. However, McLoughlin knows from past experience that the Sigerson is notorious for throwing up surprises. “In my last Sigerson game for DIT, we played UL in the first round expecting to beat them as we had a very strong team. We ended up losing by four points”.
And so McLoughlin will do, as only he knows how- to put in the hard yards and grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Thankfully for UCD, he happens to be one of the best footballers in the country at doing so. He showed a remarkable level of consistency in Mayo’s run to the All Ireland last year at wing half forward. His ferocious pace and work rate made him the intrinsic link between the defence and attack. In an era of physical play dominating Gaelic Football, McLoughlin’s elusiveness, unpredictability and flamboyancy makes him an indispensable breath of fresh air for any team he lines out for. If Gaelic Football had an Andres Iniesta, it would come in the form of Kevin McLoughlin, honing the tiki-takanaccio or in this case the 30 yard kick pass almost to absurd perfection. When he was off the field in last year’s semi-final against Dublin, they scored seven unanswered points. More tellingly he played a part in fifteen of Mayo’s eighteen scores on the day they defeated the then All Ireland champions. He is the ultimate team player
So reputed were McLoughlin’s performances last year, many felt it a travesty that he was omitted from the GAA/GPA All Star Team of the Year for his efforts. Did he feel he should have been dusting down his formal wear? “I was flattered to hear I was nominated in the first place. I would have liked to have got one but I don’t choose it so I didn’t dwell over it too much.”
He may have been snubbed, but as it so happened McLoughlin got the next best thing as he was called up as a replacement for Dublin’s Paul Flynn and took his rightful place in the GAA/GPA All Star Game to New York. The Knockmore clubman relished the experience, comparing it to playing college football: “It’s great to get to know guys from other counties. I met guys I never would have talked to before. With most good footballers, you can be yourself on the pitch and be genuine off it. You can go hell for leather and be a good guy afterwards.”
One such acquaintance was DCU and Donegal captain Michael Murphy. Trainee teacher McLoughlin feels the 2012 Sigerson champions are favourites to win the competition again this year, but was impressed by St. Mary’s, Belfast in the Ryan Cup and also his former college DIT, who beat St. Mary’s in the Ryan Cup final after extra time. However, he remains optimistic of UCD springing an upset- “we will hopefully have something to say about that because hopefully we will be playing DCU in the quarter final”.
Looking ahead, McLoughlin will return to Mayo duty for the Allianz National League and then the Championship aware that they have a multitude of obstacles to overcome before they can get over the line they fell just short of last September. “We have the hardest possible route through Connaught presuming we could win each game so we can’t think too far ahead. It’s in the back of our minds but we can’t think ahead of the first game.”
For tonight, however, and hopefully well into the advanced stages of the Sigerson, McLoughlin’s displays his unique talent in a UCD jersey. His first objective? Ensuring the underdog tale of UL doesn’t repeat itself.