By Neil McKnight
When Loughgiel Shamrocks run out on the hallowed Croke Park turf on Saturday, former captain Niall Patterson’s mind will step back in time to the scene of his greatest victory.
The charismatic Patterson kept goal for the Shamrocks when they lifted the 1983 All-Ireland Club Senior Hurling Championship.
He also skippered Antrim when they won the 1989 Ulster Senior Hurling Championship.
While that side painfully lost the All-Ireland final, Patterson is more than happy with his success with Loughgiel. Patterson joined fellow members of the 1983 side last Thursday in Loughgiel’s clubhouse to watch footage of the famous victory.
And when he travels to the home of the GAA on Saturday to take his seat in the Hogan Stand, Patterson hopes he will again watch over another famous victory.
He said: “It’ll bring back huge memories, we actually sat back and watched a bit of the ‘83 match there and we’ve forgot about bits. It was funny, maybe fouls you committed and maybe got away with them.
“To win it was everything, it was something that we didn’t realise we were capable of doing, to be honest. We wanted to win, don’t get me wrong, to win an All-Ireland was unheard of for any team up here. As proof it’s been 29 years since. It was hard to do but we probably didn’t realise at the time what we’d achieved.”
Twenty-nine years is a long time and Patterson would not have been alone in thinking that Loughgiel wouldn’t have to wait three decades for another All-Ireland final.
He said: “No, I didn’t. I alway said whenever we did win it I always believed the next club to win it would be us, whenever we have a good side we seem to play a brand of hurling which suits this type of game. It was a long time coming because after we got beat in the semi-final and (we) sort of disappeared for a while, too many boys all retired at the same time and left a sort of void.”
But big Niall believes the current Loughgiel side have the qualities to ensure that the 29-year wait is almost over. He said: “These young boys have come through and they’ve been through the mill.
“They’ve lost six finals and a semi-final, which is so hard yet they kept bouncing back. So they’ve got a good backbone in them, that’ll stand by them and if things get tough and it will get tough during this final but hopefully they’ll be fit to come through and give a big day for us.
“(It’s) long overdue and it will put us up with the likes of Blackrock and boys that’s won it twice which will be great for this club. They are a great bunch of lads and this club is a very tight community and if you go out there for an under-12 match you’ll see maybe 3-400 people at it and even in the camogie matches. Our club, they’re mad about sport, mad about the hurling, and mad about this club and we’re blessed to have the spectators that we’ve got.
“I’m looking forward to this now because I haven’t been involved in a big match where I can sit and watch it with no pressure on and I’m really looking forward to this here.”
Asked what the match means to the people of Loughgiel and the club, he said: “This parish here is great, there’s a great buzz at the minute and hopefully it will bring our club on leaps and bounds regardless of the result. But we’re in with a good chance, I think. It’s a good team we’re up against and they’ve six forwards who are very, very dangerous and our defence is good. Their defence is a fair enough defence but I don’t think it’s as good as our forward line, we’ll sort of cancel each other out and it’s got all the makings of a great game.”
And when pressed on what advice he would give the players before the match, he said: “To go out and enjoy themselves, to put in the same effort that they did in the semi-final - their hooking, their blocking, chase every ball until that ball can’t be won, keep chasing everything and this team will do that, they don’t need to told that. If they can work with the nerves I think we’re capable of winning this.
“I’m going down on the morning and my brother and his young lad our going down along with me. So I’ll go down to the Hogan Stand and sit there and watch it in peace. I’ll be nervous for the players (but) I haven’t witnessed it from this side of the wire before.
While savouring his moment of glory in 1983, it would have been easy for Patterson to say he would love to do it all again on Saturday.
But being more than satisfied with his lot, he simply added: “I wouldn’t really, I had my day, the whole game has changed since my day, it’s more of a keep-ball situation whereas we hurled everything, if we seen the ball we hit the ball, made it move and tried hard for each other. These boys works hard, keeps the ball, they don’t waste possession. The whole thing’s all changed since my day, it’s changed for the better. But I’ll still enjoy it and I’m glad I’m not out there playing - I don’t think my heart could take it anymore.”