Laois star O'Loughlin relishing duel with Dubs pair Fenton and Macauley
When John O'Loughlin was breaking into the Laois senior set-up, he foresaw a very different career for himself than the one that has unfolded.
O'Loughlin came into the squad in 2008. That was a time when the county had contested four of the previous five Leinster finals while O'Loughlin himself had won minor and U-21 provincial football titles in the same year in 2007.
And then there was nothing.
"I suppose Micko (O'Dwyer) leaving Laois had a big bearing," O'Loughlin reflected. "When Micko was here, Laois were a top-six team and the influence he had, the respect he had in the county and I suppose it unravelled.
"We weren't getting the performances. And for success, you need a lot, so many things have to come together and we just didn't have enough of those things coming together but that happens in sport.
"So Laois football was definitely in a different place. You're thinking, 'This is great and it's gonna keep happening' but you boys know well, sport doesn't work like that unfortunately.
"It was a barren couple of years and Laois for the last 10 years have been really inconsistent. We'd win matches we weren't expected to win and we wouldn't win matches we were expected to."
And that has been the story of his time with Laois. Ups and downs. And last spring they seemed to plunge new depths when they slipped into the basement division.
"It was well documented within the county how bad it was for us, I don't know if that's the right terminology. But it was the lowest ebb Laois football was at for a long time, which was really tough, it didn't sit well with us and we wanted to rectify it straight away."
Slowly they have rehabilitated themselves. Under Portlaoise-based Kerryman John Sugrue they have won 10 games in succession.
"I think the big thing John has brought to us is we're playing as a team now. Laois are probably not renowned for playing as a team and that's why we haven't won as many matches as we should," reasoned O'Loughlin
"When we've won a match, it could be because some lads are playing brilliant but it's never been a collective - or I didn't think it was anyway. But if you watched us this year, we do play as a team now.
"Everyone is involved and we try to do the right thing with the ball. John has been huge, he's really prepped us for any challenges we've had this year and we've overcome them, thankfully."
The 29-year-old points out that this year's wins have come against Division 3 and Division 4 opposition. The step up in class to take on four-in-a-row chasing Dublin in Sunday's Leinster decider in Croke Park could hardly be more stark.
O'Loughlin has some bad memories from clashes with Dublin. In 2012, when they pushed them hard, O'Loughlin's unfortunate touch saw a point attempt from Michael Darragh Macauley deflected to the net on a day when Dublin would prevail by a goal. And when the sides met again in 2016, he was sent off.
Playing with St Brigid's in the Dublin SFC, he is well placed to comment on just how good Jim Gavin's side are.
And he can't wait to test himself once more.
"To be honest, I'm not even thinking about Nowlan Park or 2012. Just thinking about this week. I'm really happy with how I'm playing at the minute, really happy with my discipline, really happy with everything.
"And, look, I can't wait to come up against Brian Fenton and Michael Darragh, they're two of the best footballers in the country.
"So, what a challenge for me to come up against them, and Kieran Lillis as well."