Curran and the great heights that he scaled with Davis and Dublin

By Stephen Leonard

WIDELY considered one of the greatest footballers to play for Dublin, Tallaght man Paul Curran spoke to The Echo about the early Dublin and Leinster Club Championship success he enjoyed with Thomas Davis that helped catapult him on to the inter-county scene.

From his senior debut with the Blues in 1989, Curran quickly came to prove a mainstay in the Dublin set-up, his brilliance and versatility proving a hugely important dynamic in their provincial dominance throughout the first half of the nineties that culminated in the county’s All-Ireland Championship success of 1995.

Paul Curran in action compressor

Tallaght’s Paul Curran was one of the greatest footballers of his generation, helping Dublin to six Leinster Championship and two National League titles in addition to the 1995 All-Ireland Championship crown

Declared ‘Footballer of the Year’ that season, Curran, a three-time All-Star, would have six Leinster Championship and two National League medals in the bag before he decided to call time on his inter-county career.

That level of success continued into management, as he led Ballymun Kickhams to Dublin and Leinster Club Championship glory before later taking Clann na nGael in Roscommon to a first Senior Football Championship crown in 19 years.

While it was as a player with Davis that he scaled great heights in club football, it was with another club not far away that Curran ignited what would prove a tremendous career as he explained “I started my football with St Jude's.

“When Jude's were founded I was going to school in St Joseph's in Terenure. I played two or three years with Jude's, and that team was the very first team in the club.

“I played with them until about 12, but then, of course, I was living in Tallaght at the time and all my friends were playing with Thomas Davis and they were at me to join. The club was walking distance from the house, so it was the natural thing to do, to join Davis. So I joined them at 13.

“Davis weren’t great at underage, but when I joined the Under 14 team, there was a decent crop of lads there, managed by Paul Kelly who is managing the Senior team at the moment.

“He brought that team up to Minor and we ended up getting to a Minor A Final against Vincent's and they beat us in a replay by a couple of points.

“But there was signs there was a good team, and five of that Minor team went on to play with the Davis Senior team and won a county title a couple of years after that.

“That was incredible because Davis had never won a Senior Championship before in their long history. They'd only ever been in one Senior Final and that was in 1986 when they got an awful hiding from Scoil Ui Chonaill.

“But the year after, '87 was our Minor year that we got to the final and then two years later, as I said, five of those players came through and played in the county final.

“It was an incredible time. We never thought that we'd go on and win three in a row.

“One was fantastic. We beat an unbelievably talented Ballymun team in the final and we just went on a run for three years.

“The other two finals we beat Parnells in both of them and, I have to be honest, I think we were relatively fortunate in both to win. I think we won both of them by either a point or two.

“In '87 I played Minor [with Dublin] and then I went to England for the guts of a year because there was no work in the place in the late 80s. We were on our knees.

“So I left, barely 18 years of age, I went to England and I came back before I was 19 and ended up just playing with Davis's seniors and once we won that first title, I was brought in [to the Dublin squad]. There were a few of us brought in because the club was successful.

“It was a great first year because Meath had dominated Leinster. They'd won three Leinsters in a row, they'd won two All-Irelands back-to-back and they were going for three in a row and, of course, it was knock-out football at the time and we ended up beating them in a great Leinster Final in '89.

“I remember my debut, 1989, we played in Newbridge against a good Kildare team. I actually played corner back that day, which wasn't my normal position and I ended up breaking a finger just before halftime so I had to go straight to Naas General Hospital, but a few of the players came in after and told me that we'd won the match.

“I made it back for the next game and I played centre back against Wicklow back in Newbridge and then Croke Park for the Leinster Final against Meath.

“We won [Leinster titles] again in '92, '93, '94 and '95, four in row, and then we were beaten by Meath in '96 by a point in the Leinster Final and they went on to win the All-Ireland.

“That really finished that team. There was a new manager who came in, Mickey Whelan and that team started to break up and, of course, it would be seven years before we won one again and 16 years before we won an All-Ireland. So it was a real down period for Dublin” he recalled.

“Looking back on what was the high-water mark of his inter-county career when they beat Tyrone for the 1995 All-Ireland Championship crown, Curran said “1995 was an incredible year in terms of weather. Every game we played was scorching, we had a great summer and that continued into September 17, a great day.

“I was still living at home and the house would have been like Grand Central Station at the time, the mornings of matches with everyone coming in, well-wishers. Funny enough I would have been the last leaving the house.

“Everyone else would have gone to make their way in to town to have a pint, so I would have locked up that day and made my way in.

“An All-Ireland Final. It was a special occasion, not a great game of football, not the way we would have liked to play. We'd a decent first half, but we were holding on at the end. But the record shows that we won it.

“That team was kind of an unlucky team. People say that we bottled it a bit, but I would argue till the cows come home with someone who thinks that.

“My argument to that is, the nineties was a decade that will never be repeated. Eight different teams won All-Irelands in the nineties, in one decade.

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Paul Curran being presented with The Echo Sports Hall of Fame Award by David Kennedy, Executive Editor, The Echo and former SDCC Mayor Mark Ward at The Echo 2018 Sports Awards Night

“You also had Clare coming out of Munster in '92, you had Leitrim coming out of Connacht in '94 so you had an awful lot of very good teams in the 'nineties and it was very difficult and yet we ended up getting to three All-Ireland Finals in four years, so we were a kick of a ball away from winning three.

“I mean the present group haven't lost an All-Ireland Final. There are 10 players who have played in seven All-Irelands and won seven.

“You'd never take away from the achievements of the present group, they'll go down as the greatest team of all time and they'll still be talking about them in a 100 years time, but I don't think there's the level of competition that there was in the '90s. Maybe knockout football brings that.

“The province at the moment is a bit of a basket case. Dublin can get through Leinster in second gear for the last ten years. I think the Super Eights have made it a little more competitive, but they're just way ahead of everybody.”

Regarding the moment when he called it a day with the Dublin footballers, Curran insisted “I wouldn't say it was hard [to walk away from the game]. I think it was the right time and it was the right decision and I never had any regrets once the decision was made.

“It comes to us all, retirement. The legs don't work the way you would like, you don't recover. When you're doing a hard session in the winter, the young fellas are running past you and that happens to all players, no matter how fit you are, how strong you think you are. There's going to come a day when a young fella will leave you standing.

“It is always an honour and a pleasure to wear what is a very famous jersey. There's no other jersey like it in Ireland, there's no other colours like them in Ireland.

“It's an honour and I think that is one of the great things that Jim Gavin brought to it, that idea that you're serving the jersey. This is not about you, this is about you doing what great players in the past have done and passing it on then, passing it on in a better place.”

Curran was not long out of the game as a player when he took his first steps into team management, stressing “It wasn't something that was ever planned. Our business, if you like, when a fella retires, normally there's always someone looking for you to get involved in management.

“It was just the same for me. I got a phone call very quickly after packing it in to go and manage Rounds Towers of Clondalkin which I was happy to do and I've been at it [management] ever since. That was in 2006 so 14 years. As many years as I was playing.

“Ballymun was great. I have a great affinity with that club, fantastic people in it, really hard-working. Ballymun is a little bit like my own place growing up, Tallaght, the same quality of person in it, hard-working.

“We were very unlucky the first year. We were beaten by Brigid's in extra time in a semi final when we were in control. We went back and improved and 2012 was a terrific year.

“We played a very good Portlaoise team [in the Leinster Final] in Mullingar, a great crowd down there from Ballymun, colourful and loud. It was a great way to finish off the year.

“I stayed with Ballymun for four years and then packed it in. I hadn't planned to do anything after that and then I got a phone call, Clann na Gael. I knew them well. They were a very good team in the nineties.

“I knew they were down a long time, but we were lucky enough, we ended up winning the championship for the first time in 19 years, which was great and they've won another one since so they're back.

“I'm looking after Cuala now. It's been a frustrating year so far. We played Thomas Davis in the first league match and the whole thing came to a sudden halt a week later.

“But there are green shoots. It looks like we're going to be back in a month or so. So it looks like there'll be a championship. It'll be nice to get back.”

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