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05th Nov 2014

Trophies, love and now a book: but Shane Curran isn’t finished, not yet anyway

Two-code goalkeeper enjoying autobiography success but priorities lie with St. Brigid's club championship campaign.

Conan Doherty

“At my stage now, the wheels are rolling off and every game you play is potentially your last.”

Shane Curran has probably been saying that for 10 years now.

The Roscommon legend is in lonely company alright when he refers to his mid-thirties as ‘mid-career’.  He’s in near isolation when he looks back through a senior club lifespan stretching over four decades – four.

In his 26th year at the pinnacle of club football, plus a 15-season county innings stretching over two full decades, from centre forward to goalkeeping, Connacht finals to League of Ireland, Curran has earned his pick of an audience for his intriguing autobiography.

But, with an All-Ireland medal in his back pocket, enviable memories to quash the pain of his Arsenal addiction, and a body of fascinating stories to spout that he could’ve filled three books with his frank, witty recounts, ‘Cake’ just won’t let up.  He still won’t look back over his work, smile and relax.  Sure he could hardly do that when he has a game on Sunday.

St. Brigids players stand for the National Anthem 6/10/2013

At 43 years of age, the St. Brigid’s number one is still that same insatiable youngster that used to kick leather around the streets of Castlrea for fun.  He has a Connacht semi final against Mayo side Ballintubber at the weekend to focus on and nothing is breaking that routine, even if he does notice the clamour of recorders and pens ready and willing to capture his retirement.

“Last year it was like every game I was under scrutiny because people thought every game was the last time I would play,” Curran spoke with ahead of another Sunday battle, a battle he may as well be rooming with at this stage.  “But I felt pretty good last year, I felt very strong and fit and I was playing very well.  Again, this year, I started well and through mid-season I took a bit of a break and came back for the back end of the season and you just hope it keeps going.  It’s whether the body holds out long enough.  It’s not so much about retiring, it’s whether the game retires you and that’s when you retire from the game, I’ve always said that.

“My body’s a bit shook from time to time but you just try to keep going and keep doing what you think you do best.

“I’ve always said that, when the time comes, it will be like the nurses and doctors having to turn off the life-support machine but I think I will be the one that will be pulling it out on myself.  I hope that time hasn’t arrived.  If it has, it has.  I will make that decision in the best interests of myself and my family and club because we’ve got some good young players coming up, particularly in the goalkeeping position and they need to be given their chance at some stage.  That time is hopefully not that close yet but it could be.”

The Brigid’s shot-stopper has seen some sights throughout a prolonged career that has helped him grow from the infamous minor who ran in front of his own team mate to hammer home a penalty in the provincial final with Roscommon.  Even a read of the prologue of his book suggests he misses very little, a fantastic, on-the-money description of a frantic, nerve-riddled changing room before a big game.  He’s quick to call out issues that need calling out as well and he pulls no punches in his autobiography.  Curran’s thoughts on the game are invaluable, almost essential.

“Sometimes fellas get pigeon-holed into certain categories and it’s very easy to do that particularly when there’s this lazy, laissez-faire attitude from some journalists – not the most of them, most of them are quite good,” he reflected on his ‘outspoken’ reputation.  “They have this kind of ratings: ‘We’ll put him into that box, we’ll put that guy into this box, and we’ll put this guy into that box’ and a lot of it is nonsense, really.  I’m just a typically ordinary 5’8” sort of a fella and, if I have something to say, I’ll say it.  I generally don’t be too far off the mark but sometimes, just because you’re from Roscommon or something like that, you don’t necessarily get the credit you deserve for your opinions but that’s the way it is and I’m not going to stop giving mine.

“(The book) is probably reflective of a lot of the GAA, there’s good, bad and indifferent in every association, the same with every individual.  There have been a lot of books and stuff thrashed out there and recycled: ‘I did this, I won this All-Ireland, I fell out with this manager and I played in this game’, a lot of these books are just commentaries on matches, you know.  For me, I felt that it was important to tell a different story.  We do live parallel lives: we have business lives, family lives, our own personal lives, everything that’s going on around that, including playing football and putting yourself in a public space.  Some people will choose to have a go at you, some people won’t like what you’re doing, some people will but there’s an odd idiot everywhere, you can’t do much about that.

“I think, by and large, that the vast majority of people are generally very good so the book tries to pay homage to the good people in my career and who have shared my life and, listen, there have been a few people who you wish you hadn’t come across as well but that’s part of life experience too.”

Unfortunately for the entrepreneur, a lot of his experience and lessons were spent taking off-the-ball blows and defending himself in remote grounds around the county.  Many a defender had no time for a flamboyant forward – that’s right – of Curran’s ilk back in the day and that’s why he can’t believe that some of the game’s leading pundits are attempting to declare crisis lockdown on modern day Gaelic Football.

“There was a lot of thuggery in the game back then, dirty off the ball stuff, breaking guys’ jaws and cheeks and noses,” he reflected.  “There was no manliness about it at all, it was just pure cowardice.  I think in today’s game, whilst the game is still physical, it has moved on.  It’s faster, it’s more skilful, the players are better and they’re far better equipped physically and mentally.  The preparation is much better and, certainly I can speak in Brigid’s case, the emphasis is totally, wholly on football.  Okay, you can play the game hard and, yes, you’re going to give hard hits and take hard hits but there’s no skulduggery or dirtiness in the game and that’s a welcome change over the last couple of decades and it doesn’t get enough air time in my opinion.

“For those who are castigating the game, they’re wrong in a lot of cases because I think the game is barely recognisable from some of the rubbish we saw in the ’80s and ’90s.”

What Curran did see at that time as well – around ’94 to be exact – is something that will stick with him forever.  League of Ireland, last day of the season, Athlone fighting to stay up, Derry City down to win the league.  Derry music icon, Phil Coulter, pulls up behind the team bus and unloads crate after crate of champagne in preparation for what he obviously saw as the inevitable celebrations to follow.

With Cake keeping goals, it wasn’t happening.  Not that day.  He did have a chance encounter with Mr Coulter since though.

“Would you believe it, the night we won the All-Ireland in 2013, Phil Coulter was actually playing in the Hodson Bay Hotel, they were our sponsors.  And he was the first man in to congratulate us that night actually, it was an interesting quirk of fate and he actually has one son who plays for Athlone Town now, which is quite funny as well.”

Shane Curran Athlone Town 15/10/1995

Good enough for Coulter but, according to the frustrated Gunners fan, “Nacho Monreal couldn’t play left back for Athlone Town never mind centre half for Arsenal.”  He definitely wouldn’t have made Curran’s Athlone team who were involved in a more vibrant league at the time.

“We were lucky in Athlone that we had a good following at the time when we were in the Premier Division.  I was listening to Roddy Collins saying the FAI Cup was embarrassing and that there was only 10,000 or 11,000 in the Aviva at the weekend.  I think the game has struggled in this country quite simply and solely because of our close proximity to the UK and the Premier League.

“It’s only a stepping stone for a lot of the better players in Ireland to get there because that’s really the dream.  The money just isn’t there in the league at the moment – maybe in Dublin and there are a couple of other clubs like Sligo Rovers and, to a lesser extent, Cork City and Derry City can maybe bounce well off support when they have a successful team but, by and large, most of the money that comes into football grounds now is going out to players and it’s very difficult for them to build facilities or build infrastructure or to build a support base.

“In the last six or seven years – maybe even eight or nine – there has been a different champion in the league and it’s difficult for those who win it to sustain it probably because of increase of salary and wages demands from players.  The facilities in the League of Ireland are largely poor anyhow so the game is always going to struggle in this country for crowds and support.”

There’ll be no shortage of support crossing the Mayo border this Sunday though and that’s where Curran’s only priority is now.  Ballintubber stand in the way of St. Brigid’s and a fifth straight provincial decider.

“It’s going to be a tough test for us, it’s going to be a tough test for them,” he said.  “They’re favourites, it’s down in their home ground but one thing about St. Brigid’s is that we’ve been on the go a long, long time now.  We’re very, very experienced but we also have a good blend of youth about the place.  We’ll go down there to give it our best shot and we won’t fail for the want of trying.  We’re confident and we’re in good shape.  We came through the county final relatively unscathed and we’re getting some of our good players back which is always important.  We missed Frankie (Dolan) for a portion of the season and we’ve missed Darran and Garvan Dolan through injury as well.  Both of those will be back in contention for a place on Sunday.

“We’ve also got a lot of young guys coming through, the likes of Ed Egan, Padraig Kelly, Niall McInerney, these young guys that are just top class players.  We’ve been able to transcend that kind of age difference from the older lads to the newer lads and seamlessly we get them into the squad and into the side.

“We do our due diligence on all the teams that we play and, coming up to the games, that’s all you can do.  Kevin (McStay) is an integral part of that all the time, giving his opinions, his insight, and his knowledge on the teams that we will be playing, and the individuals in those teams that we must watch out for.  That’s just part and parcel of the normal analysis and tactics of any match day preparation and it’s something that we’ll do and we do it quite well and it has worked in our favour more often than not.”

When it comes to match day preparation, the same boy could do it in his sleep at this stage.  Sunday is just another Sunday for a man who has been there and done it four times over now – four decades over – but whenever those sturdy wheels eventually do decide to come off, Curran will have travelled farther than most of us could only imagine.

And he will have done so in his own vehicle.  He will have done so on his own path.

No-one else’s.

Shane Curran 6/10/2013

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