Coleraine ace Stephen Lowry on difficult times, why he's so lucky to have wife Camilla, and taking on brother Philip in Cup final.
Q What is your earliest football memory?
A I played as a striker for Newtowne Youths in Limavady and Termoncanice Primary School. We always had strong teams at Newtowne and I played against men which helped me develop physically. It was a steep learning curve at times, but a good education and prepared me well for the challenge at Limavady Youth at Under-18 level under Paddy McGonigle. Limavady managers around this time included Eddie Seydak, Paul Kee and then Tommy Wright. I broke into the first team under Eddie and Paul Kee, who then gave me my debut.
Q Who was your favourite footballer growing up?
A I am an Arsenal fan and they were great to watch when I was growing up. I loved Tony Adams and Patrick Vieira - they were proper footballers. There was no fuss with them, true winners.
Q What has been the best and worst moment of your football career to date?
A The best moment of my career to date was winning the league, Irish Cup and County Antrim Shield in the 2016-17 season with Linfield. I played a good role in the success we had that season, and scored a few crucial goals along the way. We had a great changing room where I made friends for life. I must give a notable mention to our game away to Celtic in the Champions League qualifier at Celtic Park the following season in front of 58,000 people. I've always been a part-time player but that week we all trained and felt like full-time players. As for my worst moment in football, I've lost a few major finals but I would say the worst moment was probably my time at Limavady when I was around 20-years-old and in the First Division. I came back from Ballymena United and at that stage I probably was at a major crossroads as to whether to keep my playing career in the Irish League going or not. Oran Kearney then came in and I haven't looked back since, he helped me to get my confidence and belief back.
Q Who is the best player you have played with and your toughest opponent?
A Sticking to midfielders, I developed a good partnership with Jamie Mulgrew at Linfield. He is most definitely one of the best players that I have played with. I also liked playing in midfield with Lee Patrick when I was coming through the ranks at Limavady and Ballymena, he was a good role model for me, and then playing with Gareth Tommons and Michael Hegarty during my first spell at Coleraine was absolutely brilliant. Those guys were both very under-rated. As for difficult opponents, I found it extremely difficult to get close to Crusaders' Gavin Whyte before he left for England. He is a top player and so fast, while I'm not getting any quicker! I also had some good battles over the years with midfielders like Ryan Catney, Jamie Mulgrew and Mark Sykes, who are all brilliant players and tough to play against.
Q Did you ever have an opportunity to make it in the professional game?
A I had a few trials when I was young, around 12 or 13-years-old. I went over to Rushden and Diamonds when I was 15 but I pulled my quad on the first day and that was the end of that. I didn't really have ambitions to play professionally and always assumed I would play in the Irish League, and it worked well for me. I'm proud of what I have achieved so far with hopefully more special memories to come.
Thumbs up: Stephen Lowry and dad Ken celebrate success with Linfield
Q When you look back at your entire career to date, is there anything that you would have done differently?
A When I was aged 18 to 25 I would have worked harder as I didn't play enough football at a higher level in this particular period of time. Generally, though, I am happy with how everything has worked out and I have some great memories and friends through football.
Q Your brother Philip is also a well known Irish League player, who is currently playing with Crusaders. You have played against each other many times and will do so again in tomorrow's BetMcLean League Cup final at Windsor Park. What's that feeling like, and has it ever brought tension to the Lowry household!?
A Honestly, it has never brought any tension or anything like that to the household - just a lot of banter and topics of conversation. The most high-profile incident that has occurred between us was when I injured him (by accident), but it was never made into a big deal and it certainly didn't affect our relationship in any way. In the bigger games against each other, we generally wouldn't ask about teams or tactics but we would chat regularly and are still best mates. In the bigger games, such as the upcoming League Cup final, it's not nice as someone has to lose, however we are both lucky to be in the position we are in, playing for two great clubs.
Q How supportive have your mum Clare and dad Ken been in your career?
A My mum and dad are extremely supportive of myself, Philip and also my sister Gemma. Football has plenty of ups and downs and you rely on your family to help you out at certain times. Looking back on my career, my dad has always been very good at giving advice and sat in with me on several contract negotiations over the years. It's nice for them that myself and Phil have had decent careers and they can come and watch the games every week.
Q Ken battled cancer when he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the appendix in January 2014. How is he doing now and how did you cope during that worrying time?
A Except for a sore knee, which is keeping him back from refereeing and keeping fit, my dad is now in very good health. He was diagnosed and treated for a rare form of cancer, which is approaching six years ago this summer. Nothing can prepare you for that kind of news and our family were no different; in the first few months of diagnosis the not knowing what would happen was more difficult. When a plan was put in place for his operation and treatment over in Basingstoke, it gave him and the family something to work towards. Since then my dad has been fundraising for cancer charities, volunteering for elderly people and is now mentoring young referees to help them improve and get better… he loves helping others.
Q Did you take great comfort from the support your family received from the football community?
A At the time of my dad's illness, I was on the verge of signing for Linfield. I remember the manager Warren Feeney ringing me a few times when I was in Basingstoke and keeping my dad up to date while he was lying in the hospital bed. The Irish League community was and continue to be a great support to us. The support from our team-mates, managers and supporters has all been invaluable and even now everyone continues to ask us how he is doing and getting on.
Q How supportive has your wife Camilla been and how much of a doting dad are you?
A I have been married to Camilla for just under five years now and we have two young girls; Eve is four and will be starting primary school in September, while Allie is four months. I am spoilt and don't know just how lucky I am to have Camilla in my life. She is a brilliant mum and holds our family together. I appreciate it now more than ever that Camilla has to give up every single Saturday to be with the kids while I get to go and play football and get enjoyment from it.
A The film has to be Jackie Chan's Who Am I?… don't ask! For book, I recently read the two Heather Morris books about Auschwitz, The Tattooist and Cilka's Journey. They made me appreciate what I have a lot more.
Q How much are you looking forward to tomorrow's BetMcLean League Cup final against Crusaders - and your brother - at Windsor Park, and what sort of game are you expecting?
A All the boys here are looking forward to the League Cup final and for me it's a great opportunity to win my first trophy with Coleraine. Finals are obviously always tough games and Crusaders are in very good form at the minute. Their forward players have really clicked in recent months, so our defence will be tested. All the games between the sides are difficult and tight, with both teams often going for a direct approach. I'm expecting a few goals scored and hopefully we will emerge as the winners.
Q What's it like working with Oran Kearney?
A Oran is great to work with. I have known him a long time and we have developed a great relationship. I know he trusts me and his man management skills always get the best out of the players. Oran is surrounded by good people too. William Murphy is a top man who always keeps the players motivated and plays an important role in the changing room. He didn't have a bad career either! Paul Owens and Trevor McKendry are both on the coaching staff and I've known both of them a long time. I've also made good friends with physio Alan Millar, who has seen plenty of me this year!
Q If you could invite four people to dinner, who would it be and why?
A The actor Jim Carrey as I have always loved his movies and sense of humour. Lord Sugar as well; although he can be smug, I like his dry wit. I'd also say Ray Parlour, he enjoys a beer and a bit of craic. He's a big Arsenal man as well. And Camilla, who always enjoys a nice meal and we don't get out much! (laughs).
Date of birth: October 14, 1986.
Place of birth: Limavady
Previous clubs: Limavady United, Ballymena United, Linfield.