Crusaders midfielder Philip Lowry admits losing the title last season to Linfield was the biggest disappointment of his footballing career.
The Crues led the Danske Bank Premiership for the majority of the campaign, but a loss at Ballymena United effectively handed the Gibson Cup to David Healy’s men.
“It was a huge disappointment throwing the league title away,” Lowry said.
“Overall, it was a difficult season as I struggled to get a run in the team and broke my hand.
“Whilst it was the biggest blow in my career to date, I’ve learned an awful lot from it.”
Lowry made his senior football bow with Limavady United, but rose to prominence after a switch to neighbours Institute under the management of Liam Beckett.
“I made a few Irish League appearances for Limavady United as a 16-year-old under John Cunningham,” he said.
“At the end of the year there was a lot of comings and goings and Liam called and asked if I wanted to sign for ‘Stute, who had just been promoted.
“Looking back it was the best move for me at the time. I played every week for two full seasons and it made me into a man very quickly.
“The second season under John Gregg was one of the most enjoyable I had, we came sixth or seventh in the league and got to an Irish Cup semi-final.”
Lowry’s impressive performances caught the attention of cross water clubs such as Leicester City, but the Limavady man signed for Linfield in 2009.
“It was a massive move to make at 19,” Lowry revealed.
“I remember taking the call from David Jeffrey in the student halls at Queens and my mates thought it was a wind up! I met him the next night for what I thought was a chat and ended up signing a three-year deal.
“Growing up you want to play at the biggest teams and compete for the biggest prizes and that’s why I signed.”
The 28-year-old would go on to win three doubles in five years at Windsor Park with a career highlight scoring in the 2010 Irish Cup final win over Portadown.
“When I signed I wasn’t given much of a chance of playing, but David found a spot for me on the right side of midfield, which seemed to work well and I really enjoyed my football,” he said.
“Winning the Doubles were great memories as we had a very strong squad who were close to each other. Finals can be funny games as I have played in three Irish Cup finals and don’t think I played well in any.
“Against Portadown I think we caught them cold early. I had scored quite a few goals from corners that season and managed to get free and glance it past the keeper.
“We ended up winning 2-1 and it capped off a great debut season for me.”
Lowry would swap the Irish League for a spell in the League of Ireland at Derry City after his contract expired with Linfield in 2014.
“At the time Linfield had changed management and there was quite a few other players I was close to who decided to move on,” Lowry explained.
“I came close to re-signing but when Derry City came calling it was a great opportunity to try full-time football whilst being able to remain at home. I had lots of friends and family who were Derry City fans so there was an added incentive.”
The pharmacy student would spend 18 months at The Brandywell before taking a break from football after relocating to London.
“My wife landed a job in London and I decided to go over with her,” he said.
“To be honest I probably needed a break from football. I had been playing full time for the guts of two years and had became frustrated particularly towards the end of my time at Derry City as we had sold a lot of our best players and struggled on the field.”
However, a return to Irish League football would occur in January 2016 as the likeable midfielder penned a short-term contract with Portadown. Despite on and off field turbulence during his spell at Shamrock Park, Lowry has fond memories of his time in Mid-Ulster.
“The move was a bolt from the blue to be honest,” Lowry explained.
“I got a call from Ronnie McFall and wasn’t playing anywhere at the time. He offered me the chance to get back playing and I was really grateful for it.
“After losing to Lurgan Celtic in the Irish Cup quarter-final things turned very quickly and Ronnie left. I was gutted as he was a proper Irish League legend and a man I had so much respect and admiration for.
“I definitely did not regret making the move as I love playing football and got the chance to do that at Portadown.
“I wish them all the best in getting back up to the Premier Division.”
Lowry made a switch to Seaview at the start of the 2016-17 season and admits the lure of playing under Stephen Baxter was too good to turn down.
“I spoke with Stephen Baxter after one of the Portadown games and was very impressed with the team he had assembled at the Crues,” Lowry continued.
“I was joining the best team in the league and reigning champions so it was a no brainer to sign. He places a lot of trust and belief in the players and that’s what you want from a manager. His record since taking over at Crusaders speaks for itself.”
Lowry – who is currently out of action with a broken arm – is nearing a return from injury at a perfect time as the Crues are competing for FIVE trophies.
“It’s been no surprise to see the likes of Coleraine and Glenavon competing at the top given the quality of the young players they are producing,” Lowry said.
“From our perspective it’s just about taking one game at a time. We are hitting a nice run of form recently with goals coming from all across the team.
“It’s always nice to have a run in the cups and it keeps the squad competitive with players aiming to impress to be picked for the big games so it bodes well.”