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'I think I'm the only Kerryman playing in England' - Shane McLoughlin sets sights on Cup shock at Spurs

Midfielder has taken a route less travelled from a county where Gaelic football holds sway


Shane McLoughlin, pictured during his AFC Wimbledon days, is hoping Morecambe can cause upset. Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

Shane McLoughlin, pictured during his AFC Wimbledon days, is hoping Morecambe can cause upset. Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

Shane McLoughlin, pictured during his AFC Wimbledon days, is hoping Morecambe can cause upset. Photo: James Chance/Getty Images

The sad sight of Matt Doherty, on a rare start in the team, being hauled off at half-time in a poor home defeat was more evidence of the dilution of Ireland’s influence at Tottenham Hotspur.

So it’s left to visitors Morecambe FC, from 250 miles up the M6, on a different plane in financial terms and 58 places below Spurs in the league standings, to give an Irish voice to the very English occasion that is the FA Cup third-round weekend.

Kerry native and Morecambe player Shane McLoughlin thought he’d be the only delegate from his county, but another Kingdom man, Diarmuid O’Carroll, was appointed as assistant manager last week and today faces a baptism of fire at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. O’Carroll will take charge of the side after Morecambe yesterday confirmed manager Stephen Robinson tested positive for Covid-19.

O’Carroll joins a staff that features Wicklow’s Barry Roche as goalkeeping coach. Wexford’s Ryan Delaney and Cork-born Anthony O’Connor are in the first-team squad along with Belfast boy Ryan McLaughlin and Courtney Duffus, a former Republic of Ireland under-21 cap who recently had a spell with Waterford.

They have all battled in their own way and on their own path to earn their place at Morecambe and the right to take on Spurs, a game where the Premier League side’s form marks this fixture out as one with the potential for an upset.

“It’s tough, but we’re well-prepped for it, and we’re excited to go up against a side like Spurs and see where we’re at,” says McLoughlin, who is settled as a central midfielder now after playing several positions earlier in a career that began with a 2013 move from schoolboy club St Brendan’s Park to Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town.

“We might have a slightly better chance if we were at home. A smaller stadium and a long journey could put Spurs off a bit, but getting the chance to play in the Tottenham Stadium is something we have to relish. Cup games are tough, as we know, we had non-league Buxton in the last round. There’s a big gap between us and them, and they made life very, very hard for us. But it can be done. We go there, try to keep our composure to stay in the game and see where it takes us.

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“You want to test yourself and with the way I play, a high-energy game, I won’t give anyone an easy game. This gives me a chance to see where I am at in my career, if I get close to the Spurs players, if they can get close to me, just to play in front of a big crowd in a nice stadium.”

McLoughlin’s journey to Tottenham’s home is one of those less well-travelled routes in the game, a rare soccer export from a county where Gaelic football reigns.

“I think I am the only man from Kerry playing in England, we’ve had a few over the years, but I can’t think of any others at the moment. We always had soccer talent in Kerry, but it was hard for lads there to get scouted,” he says.

“There is natural ability there in Kerry, you see that in the likes of David Clifford and so many other players, but they tend to stick with GAA. It’s hard to get scouts down to somewhere like Kerry and you can be overlooked.

“It was always in my head, back from when I was young, that I wanted to have a crack at England. I didn’t know many players who had got to England from Kerry and in my own head, I wanted to be ‘the one’. Since I have been in England, I had opportunities to come back and play in the League of Ireland, on loan or whatever, but I was determined to stay over and stay in the game here, and thankfully it’s worked out.”

The financial rewards for players at Spurs can’t compare to the earnings at Morecambe, a club that has average home crowds of 3,500 but sustaining a career is key for McLoughlin. He can benchmark his success against others: back in 2012, there was a major moment in his career when he played for the Ireland under-15s, against Belgium, in Killarney, a big honour in local terms. Of the 18 Ireland players used in that 3-3 draw, he’s the only one now on the books of a UK club, while the vast majority never had a professional career.

“I set a goal to achieve as much as I could in the game, to be a professional and I was determined to get there. When I came to England, I was a kid of 16 who had barely played the game, not many people would have expected much of me, and here I am, eight years later, still here, I am 24 now.”

Morecambe travel to London with the hope of a result but also with pride in their stance on Covid-19 vaccination, a beacon of sanity in a football world where sceptics and anti-vaxxers can often hold sway in a dressing room. “In our squad this season, we are all double-vaxxed, we were before the season started. That was a big thing with the gaffer, he spoke to us and said we should do it as a team, it would give us more leeway in terms of training and travel, carpools and that,” says McLoughlin.

“You can’t force it on anyone and you have to respect people’s choices, but for us, we just saw it made life easier to do our jobs as professional footballers if we were vaccinated. Having so many new players — we signed 17 players the week the season started — all of that helped us settle in, we weren’t separated as much as maybe in a squad where a lot of players were not vaccinated.”

That team spirit could aid in their league campaign, but today, the Morecambe mob can enjoy a day off from those pressures.

“I have good memories of the FA Cup, one of my first memories of seeing a game on TV was in the Cup, when Michael Owen scored two for Liverpool against Arsenal in the final, I think I was four, and I was a Liverpool fan growing up,” he says. “In my own career, the first time I was in the first-team squad was for a Cup game, when I was at Ipswich, so it’s always had a special feeling for me. We’ll go to Spurs and see what we can do.”

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