Where are they now? Former Antrim goalkeeper Niall Patterson looks back on a colourful career
Club: Loughgiel Shamrocks
When did you play for Antrim? 1979-1991.
What do you do nowadays?
I’m a musician, playing out on my own at the minute. I play all over the north, I try and keep my dates close to home but I’m heading out to Portugal on the 15th of October with a travel company to play in their house band.
I’ve been involved in music for 41 years, but it was hard to keep it going when I was playing. I saw myself finishing dances on a Saturday night at 1am and Fergus McNaughton and his wife Maureen would’ve been sitting outside waiting.
I’d have been off stage, into the car and they drove me to Cork, Kilkenny, wherever. It was madness, but I just loved the game.
Are you still involved in hurling?
No, not any more. I was coaching the goalkeepers at the county and the club for about six years, but I haven’t done anything for maybe the past six years now.
I do miss it. I would’ve phoned a lot of the ‘keepers playing in Division One at the time to pick their brains, because the game had moved on so much since I was playing. Donal Og Cusack was brilliant, he gave me a load of stuff and said if I ever needed anything just to call.
What do you remember about your first game for Antrim?
It was a National League game against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. Gilly McElhatton and my father [Neil] were over us.
I was 17 and Gilly had been pushing to get me in the team earlier because I’d be playing really well for the club at that time, but my father kept saying I wasn’t ready yet.
I don’t remember a big lot about the game itself, more that it was just a big occasion for me, making my inter-county debut.
Dominic McKinley made his debut too, he came on as a sub that day and was put onto Ger Fennelly. At that time Fennelly would’ve been one of Kilkenny’s top players and Woody never let him hit a ball.
But those first couple of seasons, I was playing really well… well, it’s hard to know. I thought I was playing well but my father didn’t.
I remember playing one day and having a really good game – I let in four goals I think but stopped maybe 12 certain goals – and he said after ‘do you think you played well today?’ I said ‘I did alright’, and he replied ‘you’ll never be a goalkeeper. When you come up against the Tipperarys or Corks, you let in one or none’.
After him telling me that, I always wanted to prove myself to him. He always kept me on my toes.
What’s your best memory from your playing days?
To win the All-Ireland club title in ’83, I was the captain of the team that year, was special. Everything revolves around the club - you grew up there, your friends are there, your family’s there, that’s what the GAA’s all about.
I loved the county too, and getting to an All-Ireland final in ’89 was a big thing. It just wasn’t to be for us. I’d have loved to have got back the following year to see had we taken a step forward because the occasion really got to us.
And the worst?
Losing the ’89 final was tough. I lost confidence in my game for probably a full year after that, it took that much out of me.
But one of the worst things that happened was in a minor All-Ireland in 1980 when we were beat by Wexford in Leinster.
The year before, Kilkenny had beat us handy enough in the Leinster final and they came in with this big spiel about how you’re keeping the game alive in the north, stick at it, the usual oul crap.
We drew Kilkenny in the first round in 1980 and we beat them in Nowlan Park. Nobody came in near us. Our dressing room door was open and I heard something not very nice being said, and I just thought… patronising. You know?
It struck a chord with me and I thought, I would love to beat some of those teams and get into their dressing rooms and say ‘hard luck lads, keep it going’. But the first time it happened it was Offaly in the All-Ireland semi-final and they gave us a guard of honour off the field, so we couldn’t go and do it to them!
Unfortunately after beating Kilkenny, we went on and lost to Wexford and that was one of the worst feelings because that team was capable of winning an All-Ireland.
Biggest character you played with?
‘Cloot’ [Olcan McFettridge] was a great wee character, Terence McNaughton, two good mates. Big Gerard Rogan was one of the best characters I ever played with, we came up from under 16 together. One of the best guys you’ll ever meet.
No regrets, no. I wouldn’t change anything, except maybe the result of the ’89 final. There were highs and lows, but that’s part and parcel of the game.