Lowry family ties will be forgotten as brothers do battle in Linfield and Crusaders clash
One title showdown, one family divided... brothers Stephen and Philip Lowry will be on opposing sides when Linfield clash with Crusaders in today's Danske Bank Premiership battle at Windsor Park.
Stephen (30) is hoping his Linfield side can secure a victory that will cut the champions' lead to only a point with four games remaining but Philip (27) knows an away win would leave the Crues on the brink of claiming three titles in a row.
Stephen goes into the massive game lifted by the news he has been voted Player of the Month for March by the Northern Ireland Football Writers' Association. We caught up with the two midfielders who will put football before family this afternoon.
What's it like playing against one another?
Stephen: It's a nice feeling to walk out together and talk about the match after, but during the game I don't think about it, we are both very competitive and obviously as brothers wouldn't want to lose that individual battle against each other... something might stick in my head about the game or an incident and we'll get a laugh or chat about it after.
Philip: It's really like facing any other player but also different because Stephen is such a good player. When you take a step back it's always about beating the opposition and that means performing well and winning tackles. I would tackle him as hard as anyone else.
What qualities do you admire in each other, on and off the pitch?
Stephen: On the pitch Phil is always a threat with late runs into the box and he has a knack of being in the right place at the right time... he is also very versatile and can play right wing, centre midfield and when I watched him at Derry City he did a brilliant job in front of the back four. Off the pitch we get on the best, I'm doing best man at his wedding in July this year, returning the favour.
Philip: Stephen is a top, all round player and he's added more goals to his game this season despite the fact he is now missing penalties! He is probably a more technical player than me but he's been a real talisman for Linfield this season. As a brother there is only an age gap of three years between us so we have remained close and with the same group of friends, we're a tight-knit group and always willing to help each other.
Linfield-Crusaders games can get heated at times. Will we see two brothers confronting one another in a melee!?
Stephen: Definitely not, it's not my style and no matter if it was Philip or someone else I'd sit back and watch.
Philip: Given what is at stake family connections will be forgotten over the 90 plus minutes and there's no doubt there's added spice in this game with the two top teams in the league going head to head. It's crunch time and both sets of players will badly want to win the game but I'll not be throwing any punches!
What's been the highlight of your career so far?
Stephen: Not sure about this... I won the County Antrim Shield and scored in the final this year which was great... but apart from that I've not won any other senior trophies, lost in two finals, one with Linfield and one with Coleraine. Hopefully I can go one better this year.
Philip: I've had ups and downs but I had a very special time at Linfield and I've been very fortunate to win many trophies. Linfield had a very strong team then and I felt like I made a valuable contribution, I didn't just make up the numbers. I was scoring goals and doing well but I probably played my best football at Derry City and winning the FAI Cup Final at the Aviva Stadium in 2014 was special. I'm from Limavady so it was an exciting time in the north west. Now I want to enjoy success with Crusaders.
Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Stephen: My dad (Ken) has been very supportive of me and Philip in our football careers, however from a football point of view Oran Kearney for me. At the time I had kind of lost my way in football, seven or eight years ago, I couldn't, and rightly so, get on for Limavady in the First Division. Oran believed in me and turned my football career around.
Philip: My family have always been very supportive and as soon as we could walk we were kicking a ball around. We had a big garden to practise on so it all started there. In terms of my career Liam Beckett gave me my break at Institute and John Gregg helped me develop as a footballer. I had a very good relationship with David Jeffrey at Linfield as well. David was a major influence on and off the pitch, stressing the importance as well of how I conducted myself off the pitch.
Do you have any regrets?
Stephen: No I'm very grateful that I am at Linfield and am really enjoying my football at the minute. I've made some great friends from my time at Limavady, Ballymena, Coleraine and Linfield and want to enjoy every second of it for the next four to five years.
Philip: Not really. I had five decent years at Linfield and it was the right time to leave as changes were happening. Derry City gave me the opportunity of full-time football and I couldn't turn it down. I feel privileged and lucky to be able to win trophies many times over.
What do you like about the Irish League and is there anything about it you don't like?
Stephen: The standard of the Irish League is a lot better than many people give it credit for, I think it's proven by the amount of players coming back from full-time football in England or Scotland who have struggled to make an impact.
Philip: The competitiveness and sheer determination of all the teams is fantastic. I watch Premier League football on television but it is so boring and monotonous. There is so much money involved and pressure on the players that you get dull spectacles. In our league the games are very competitive and there's good banter off the pitch too. I'm not surprised attendances are up and since the Northern Ireland Football League started running the leagues it's been marketed better. People have a go at referees but I've plenty of sympathy for them as it's a difficult job and they don't go out to make mistakes. The facilities have got better - just look at Seaview and the atmosphere it generates when it's packed - but they can improve even more.
Have you any thoughts on staying involved in the game after you retire, maybe coaching?
Stephen: At the minute no, I have done some basic coaching qualifications but at the minute I'm just concentrating on playing.
Philip: Definitely yes. My dad was a referee so I might end up doing that! I love football too much to just walk away so I could go into management. I'll bring Stephen along as a kitman or physio!
How do you relax away from football?
Stephen: (laughs) By watching football. I've got a young daughter who I love spending my free time with. Sunday is the only free day I have so I usually spend it around the North Coast with my family.
Philip: At the minute we are focusing on my wedding to Elaine in July. Stephen is my best man after I performed the duties for him. I like to keep myself fit by training and also relaxing with Elaine.
Your father Ken, a well known former referee, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in January, 2014. How is he now?
Stephen: He got good news at his latest scan so all is good, he is very inspirational, what he's been through has been very tough for him and all our family but hopefully he has come out the other side. He loves coming to watch our games.
Philip: He's doing great and I'm sure he's proud when he watches us play. Knowing that makes us proud too. He has a grand-daughter (Eve) now to keep him on his toes. He's been a real tower of strength and an inspiration to the rest of the family. I'm pleased to say he's feeling great.
Sum up the importance of today's game?
Stephen: Massive game for both teams...we have the momentum but they are a very good side and they are the champions for a reason so we will give them the respect they deserve. It's a great game to be involved in and I'll be relishing it.
Philip: No qualms about it, it's a huge game in the title race. If we could go seven points clear with four games left we would be very much in the driving seat. If we lose it, it won't be disastrous but we go out to win every game and we haven't beaten Linfield yet this season. It could be another tight game with one mistake making all the difference. Linfield are on a high after reaching the Irish Cup Final but we're always focused on winning every game.