BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WHEN Jordan Loftus heard of Ollie Horgan’s interest in taking him to Finn Harps until the season’s end, his first port of call was Ruairi Keating.
In fourteen games during a loan spell in the first half of the season, Keating hit six goals and became an instant hit in Ballybofey.
Such was Keating’s impression, new Sligo Rovers manager John Coleman – who succeeded the axed Ian Baraclough – opted not to permit the striker to make the return trip to Finnside for the latter part of the campaign.
With goals already hard to come by, Horgan stayed with Sligo for another option and in another Castlebar native, Loftus, he found a raw possibility.
Two weeks ago, Loftus made his debut at the RSC, scoring two goals in the 2-0 away win at Waterford United.
The 19-year-old had little experience of first-team action when he arrived in Ballybofey, but his predatory instincts could be a tool utilised again between now and November.
Loftus was back on the bench last week for the FAI Cup game in Wexford, but the Mayo man wasn’t complaining. Confidence is something he doesn’t lack and the popular attacker believes his spell in Ballybofey can be beneficial for club and player.
Keating told him as much.
“I know Ruairi well and I’d have played on the Mayo teams in underage alongside him,” he says.
“He comes from just ten minutes away from me. He sent a text to congratulate me on the two goals against Waterford.
“I gave him a call before I came up to see what I was coming up to. He said it would really benefit me and, if the opportunity arose, that I should take it with two hands.
“Ruairi said it would make me a better player and that he felt better since going back to Sligo. That was really good to hear.”
Loftus has been impressed by what he’s experienced so far. Although Harps have been somewhat goal-shy through the campaign – Loftus’s two goals mean he is now the joint second top scorer still at the club – they have lost just once in their last fifteen games. With an outside shot at promotion and an FAI Cup quarter-final to look forward to, there are rumblings of a buzz appearing again down Navenny Street.
He says: “It’s been brilliant since I’ve come in. I actually feel the standard has been improving all the time, every week. There’s great competition for places.
“In training you can always feel a good standard and a top intensity to it. It showed what we have in the squad when I could score two one week and not get the run the next week. Ollie got his teams spot on those weeks so you can’t complain, as much as I hate to say that!”
Loftus has been similarly impressed by Horgan’s role behind the scenes.
He says: “I didn’t know Ollie at all. He collected me the first night I came up. Ollie’s a very hard worker for the club and he’s a great man manger – probably the best I’ve played under actually.
“The lads have all been great since I came up. They’re very grounded and they’ve been a big help. Kevin McHugh, in particular, has been excellent – he’s taken me under his wing.”
On occasion when he stays in Donegal for training or games, Loftus stays in the club’s rented house in Letterkenny with Conor Winn, Pat McCann and Carel Tiofack.
Former Sligo manager Baraclough had planned to send him out on loan and Coleman agreed to carry through the agreement when he took over at The Showgrounds.
Loftus knew he’d have to bide his time.
He says: “I knew I wasn’t going to come straight up and get into the side. It was down to injuries and suspensions that I got in for that game down in Waterford. I’d be pretty confident in my own ability anyway so I wasn’t nervous or anything.
“It gave me more confidence that Ollie felt grand about throwing me into the team like that.”
A few hours before the game, while the team bus had stopped at the Regency Hotel in Dublin, Horgan called Loftus aside and told him he was in.
“He told me to get my head right because I was going up top and he told me not to let the defenders bully me,” Lofus recalls.
“Goals were a problem when I came and Ollie said that to me. I know I have goals in me.
“My game is all about playing on the shoulder of the last man. I told Ciaran Coll and Brian McGroary to get it into the channels as much as possible and they did exactly that. Anytime I’m one-on-one I’m happy enough.
“Ciaran did it well for the first. For that first goal, I got away and the other centre-half came lunging in, but I managed to get it into the bottom corner. Then, Tommy McMonagle played down the left to Ciaran and he did well again. He skipped past the ‘keeper and dinked it across for me to score.
“It was a great feeling to get the two goals.”
Loftus hasn’t thought about his spell in Ballybofey being a trial for a return to Sligo next season. He’s firmly operating in the here and now.
He says: “I’m not looking at which club I’ll be at next season or anything like that. I just want to keep improving and do well personally. Game by game I want to get better and do well for the team. We have some massive games coming up so I can’t wait for those and hopefully I’ll be involved.”