HOTSHOT PJ Loftus is pictured in action for Mayo against Meath in the drawn 1996 All-Ireland Final. Pic: Sportsfile
MENTION the name of former Mayo forward, PJ Loftus, and what’s the first thing that pops into most supporter’s heads of a certain age?
“They probably remember me as the fella who got the goal against Meath in ’96,” says the man himself.
“And the lads who marked me would probably say, ‘He was a lunatic!’” he added, with a laugh.
‘Were you a lunatic?’ we wondered aloud.
“Well, you can’t have fear,” replied Loftus. “You need strength and you need to hit hard, hard but fair. We showed no fear back in ’96. And there’s no reason this Mayo team should fear anyone either.”
By this stage you’ve probably already guessed that PJ Loftus from Crossmolina hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the same straightshooter who made big headlines throughout his club and county career, and scored one of the famous All-Ireland Final goals for Mayo 21 years ago this September.
PJ turned 46 last Friday, lives in Philadelphia in the United States of America, and works in property management.
He’s married to Julie, with two children, Olivia (19) and Luke (6). ‘Luke is as mad as a March Hare, like his dad!” he chuckled.
Loftus has called the US home for the last seven years, but some of his neighbours are well aware of his footballing exploits in the Green and Red of Mayo.
“It’s funny, not long after we bought our house out here, a neighbour of ours called over and there was a picture of me up on the wall from the Meath game in ’96,” he explained.
“He asked, ‘What’s that about?’ So I was telling him the craic, he ends up searching for my name on the internet, and the next thing he’s going around showing my neighbours the video of my goal against Meath on his phone!”
A corner-forward with explosive pace, and as unpredictable as he was talented, Loftus won two Mayo SFC medals with Crossmolina and captured three Connacht SFC medals with Mayo during his playing days.
He can recall vividly how his county career started and ended back in the 90s.
“I was involved in 1992 when Donegal beat us in an All-Ireland semi-final, and I was there in 1993 when Cork hammered us. I started that game actually, and was marking Brian Corcoran.
“Actually, in terms of advice for young lads coming up, I found out that time that you should never do a big interview before a match. I did one with the Evening Herald that appeared on either the Friday or the Saturday and sure I don’t think I touched the ball in the first half at all. My head just wasn’t right.
“In fairness to John Maughan, when he was over us he wouldn’t even let us read the papers, local or national, for the week before a game.”
LOFTUS also remembers Maughan’s legendary training regime during those halcyon days of the mid 90s, and admits in hindsight that Mayo were fitter, stronger and more physical than most teams they crossed paths with.
But for him, all that hard work came at a cost.
“We trained hard, especially in 1996, and a lot of us were wrecked after it,” he added. “I ended up having two Gilmore Groin operations after the ’96 All-Ireland.
“Gerry McEntee, the famous Meath midfielder and surgeon, that did them for me. I remember when they were wheeling me down to theatre, he said: ‘That’s the last goal you’ll be scoring against Meath!’ He wasn’t far wrong either!
“I was walking like John Wayne after that for a long time. I couldn’t walk or talk to be honest.
“I was never 100% right after those operations.”
There are no prizes for guessing though which moment gave him greatest pride in the Mayo jersey.
“It would have to be scoring that goal at Croke Park in an All-Ireland Final. I don’t remember much about it to be honest.
“I watched it on back on video a few years later, and I just broke off Anthony Finnerty who gave me the ball, and I just buried it. You know me, it could have gone anywhere but that day it went in.
“I was so focussed, I just ran back out to my position again.”
Loftus remains a self-confessed ‘Mayo fanatic’ who watches all their games on GAAGo and travelled back to Ireland for last year’s drawn All-Ireland Final.
He’s predicting a ‘tough, tight game’ against Galway on Sunday but sees no reason why his old team-mate, Stephen Rochford, can’t lead Mayo to an All-Ireland this year.
“They’re in their footballing prime, and they’re all eager and sharp,” he says. “But they need to improve on the Sligo game. I think the forwards need to hold their positions, and the vision of players has to improve.
“We have plenty of runners in the team but the strength of lads like Lee Keegan and the O’Sheas is vital too.
And I like Paddy Durcan and Boyler as well. He has no fear.”
Just like the one and only, PJ Loftus.