Red-hot Liam Watson will relish big occasion
When Liam Watson decided to terminate his soccer career — he has been with Donegal Celtic and Ballymena United over the course of the past year — he unwittingly initiated a compelling narrative that could reach a spectacular climax at Croke Park today.
Watson’s sporting about-turn has already helped to spark one historic achievement for the hurlers of Loughgiel.
And now they find themselves on the cusp of another as they prepare to pit themselves against Offaly and Leinster champions Coolderry in the All-Ireland club championship final (2pm).
If Watson’s prodigious scoring exploits had much to do with Loughgiel’s successful defence of both their Antrim and Ulster titles for the first time in 40 years, then his majestic tour de force in the All-Ireland semi-final against Na Piarsaigh (Limerick) — when he recorded 0-16 — forcibly underlined his status as a marksman supreme.
Little wonder, then, that Loughgiel manager P J O’Mullan views the enigmatic Watson — who proved a big hit on the Allstars trip to the United States last autumn — as the ace in his pack for today’s thrilling showdown.
“Obviously Liam has been in red-hot scoring form and he certainly won’t be fazed by the demands of the occasion,” said O’Mullan.
“But while he has been piling up the scores we have been performing well as a team and that’s the important thing.”
It was back in 1983 that Loughgiel won their only All-Ireland club crown to date and there is a firm belief within the present side that they can finally bridge the title gap.
Their victories over Kevin Lynch’s (Dungiven) and Ballycran in the Ulster championship preceded the win over Na Piarsaigh and O’Mullan is in no doubt that the levels of cohesion and organisation within his side are better than they have ever been.
“We have experience in every sector, a strong all-round work rate and plenty of finishing skills up front,” maintains the Loughgiel boss.
“The big thing is that we must harness all these elements well tomorrow if we are to have a chance of winning.”
Barney McAuley is a powerhouse in the defence while Watson is by no means a lone ranger up front.
He has the back-up from players such as Eddie McCloskey, Benny McCarry and Damian Laverty who are capable of mounting scores regularly.
Former Tipperary All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Ken Hogan is the Coolderry manager and his respect for Loughgiel is quite obvious.
He says: “They are clearly a side imbued with a tremendous pride and lots of ability.
“They have been very consistent throughout this campaign and that’s always a good quality to take into any final.
“But we will be up for the challenge as we have what we believe to be a very good blend of youth and experience that is capable of taking us all the way to all-Ireland glory.”