Thomas McCurtains: A Band of Brothers

Thomas McCurtains A Band of Brothers
Thomas McCurtains

By Damian Dolan

There’s not too many London GAA clubs, or British ones for that matter, which can boast three sets of brothers, but that Thomas McCurtains can is in perfect keeping with the club’s “family feel” says captain Johnny McGuigan.

Peter and Johnny Rafferty (Eastern Harps, Co Sligo), Conor and Sean Murphy (Portarlington, Co Laois) and Johnny and his brother and Paddy McGuigan from Cremartin in Monaghan.

They’ll take to the field in Leeds on Sunday bidding to win the club’s first-ever All-Britain football title, having reached the final in 2007 only to come up short against John Mitchels of Lancashire.

They’ll do so backed by a sizable amount of support – the east Londoners will be heading north on mass that’s for sure. McCurtains, who celebrate their 100th Anniversary next year, is very much a family club.

Stuck out in east London all on their own, some might see that as a handicap, but McCurtains have turned a possible geographical disadvantage into a strength.

“We’re out on our own and we have that community feel, similar to some of the other teams that are outside of London,” McGuigan told the Irish World.

“It would take us an hour and 20 minutes to get to Ruislip to play at the weekend – we’re that far out.”

He added: “That community feel is something that really stood out to me when I joined them. It’s a great club and we’ve great support.”

Thomas McCurtains A Band of Brothers
McCurtains captain Johnny McGuigan

While some GAA clubs are going through tough times, McCurtains seem to be thriving across the board, whether it be at underage, ladies football, camogie, hurling or men’s football.

Its footballers are spread across Bow, Bethnal Green, Leytonstone, Stratford, Wanstead, Woodford, Romford, Chelmsford and even Ipswich, with 27 different counties represented.

There’s definitely something stirring in east London, and they’ve got others sitting up and taking notice. The secret? Maybe it’s something in the tea.

Club stalwarts Alan Power and Johnny Dwyer keep the kettle boiling for the lads after training at Goodmayes, and there’s always a ready supply of biscuits.

Selector Gavin Gallagher estimates the lads have put away 2500 cups this year alone.

“Everyone is mad to get out training on a Tuesday or Thursday night, and we’re just delighted and grateful to be in an All-Britain final,” said McGuigan.

Being out on their own, has clearly made them a tighter unit.

Thomas McCurtains A Band of Brothers
Peter and Johnny Rafferty (Eastern Harps, Co Sligo), Johnny and his brother Paddy McGuigan from Cremartin in Monaghan and Conor and Sean Murphy (Portarlington, Co Laois)

“Everyone comes over to work and they might find themselves here longer than they initially thought, but whereas other teams might have players coming and going, and students, people rarely leave McCurtains,” said McGuigan, who trained with the team in 2017 before joining the following year.

“And if they do it’s to go travelling for a few months before coming back. The club is a home-base.”

Just don’t be fooled by the club’s ‘PG’ image – McCurtains can be ruthless on the pitch and are hungry for success.

Sean McDermotts were put to the sword by the end of the third quarter in the side’s All-Britain semi-final, with Lancashire’s best, Oisin, despatched in the quarter-final.

McCurtains had already seen off junior London champions Dulwich Harps with ease, in a play-off many tipped to be tight.

And all that on the back of ending Tir Chonaill Gaels’ all-English born team’s hopes of historic back-to-back championships.

 

The win over McDermotts was particularly impressive, having been beaten by the Birmingham side at the same stage two years ago. The prolific Conor Murphy and the experienced Danny Ryan with the goals.

Ryan, who won a senior title in with St Kiernan’s in 2016, has been an experienced voice in the dressing room this year, and a great addition says McGuigan.

“Everyone just stood up; maybe some of the boys were a bit sore from two years ago,” said McGuigan.

“A few things worked for us; we got the ball in early to the forwards and we had a good overall game.”

Against Dulwich it was Conor Murphy to the fore, and against Oisin it was Niall Coffey who shone – and in amongst it all, captain Johnny McGuigan, helping to make things tick. And defensively they are a mean and well-drilled unit.

Make no mistake about it, Pop Geraghty’s side are winners.

“We only had eyes on winning London and anything after that has been a bonus,” said McGuigan.

“We’re now in this great position that we didn’t think we’d be in at the start of the year. It’s a great opportunity and it would be a fantastic way to end the year.”

On Sunday, though, they’ll have to go to the well for the twenty-ninth time this year, but will hope those extra miles in the legs in recent weeks will stand to them.

 

“But you can also look at it the other way and say Glasgow will be fresher,” said McGuigan, who is expecting Glasgow to be their “toughest opposition” so far.

It’s already been a postcard year for the club – next year they’ll have senior championship football for the first time since 2008.

But on Sunday they have the chance to push on that little bit further and become the first London All-Britain champions since Fulham Irish in 2006.

Since then, Neasden Gaels (2018), North London Shamrocks (2014), Tara (2008) and McCurtains themselves in 2007, have all reached the final, only to fall at the final hurdle.

The east Londoners have the chance to write a final chapter in the club’s 100-year history.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a great battle,” said McGuigan.


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