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McCurtains’ date with All-Ireland destiny

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
Thomas McCurtains celebrate winning the All-Britain title in Leeds. Photo: Martin Mannering

By Damian Dolan

It might be deemed folly by some to look too far ahead in sport, but Thomas McCurtains chairperson Johnny O’Dwyer can’t resist a sneaky peak into the future.

And what a glorious and momentous one it could be for the east London club, if its footballers can keep their splendid run going.

Next year sees McCurtains celebrate its 100th anniversary and there would be no better way to mark that milestone than with an appearance at Croke Park.

They’re just 120 minutes away from doing just that, with Monaghan and Ulster junior champions Blackhill Emeralds their next obstacle at McGovern Park on Sunday, in a journey that began way back in January.

McCurtains, as the saying goes, have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

“It would be unbelievable,” O’Dwyer told the Irish World.

“When you start out at the beginning of the year you have ambitions of winning things, but the ultimate is the championship. Everything after that becomes a bonus.

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
McCurtains chairperson Johnny O’Dwyer. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

“But the more you achieve the more you want to achieve. Now, we’re thinking we could be in Croke Park.

“We’re just two games away from getting there, and with next year being the club’s 100th year, you just couldn’t ask for better.”

Sunday will be just the club’s second-ever All-Ireland Club appearance. The first came 14 years ago, when McCurtains’ hurlers were edged out (2-9 to 3-3) away to Monaghan’s Castleblaney.

“There wasn’t much in it, we just didn’t reach the form that we could have. But that happens,” said O’Dwyer, who was the team’s manager at the time.

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“They were that little bit fitter than us, especially in the last quarter. They had some of their footballers playing for them and they were super fit.

“It’s always harder when you’re playing a team from Ireland – a lot of that Castleblaney team would have played underage together and they gelled.

“But it was still an achievement for us to get that far.”

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
(L/R): Jim McDermott – Treasurer, Alan Power – Director of Hurling, Jim Hyland – Football Coach, Pop Geraghty – Football Manager, Jim Galvin – Club Member Tom Watson – President, and Seamus O’Donnell – Committee Member. Photo: Damian Dolan

McCurtains’ hurlers had earnt their crack at the All-Ireland after beating Warwickshire’s John Mitchels in the provincial final (4-13 to 3-9).

It remained the club’s only All-Britain title until a few weeks ago, when its footballers defeated Glasgow Gaels in Leeds.

A strong finish, capped by Paddy McGuigan’s late goal, saw Pop Geraghty’s side over the line by 1-11 to 0-7.

“Straight after the final, Glasgow said they’d really be rooting for us and so did Sean McDermotts of Birmingham (whom McCurtains beat in the semi-finals),” said O’Dwyer.

“We represented London [in the provincial final] and now we’re representing Britain. All the clubs in London will be supporting us, and that’s brilliant.”

A proud day for O’Dwyer, whose home club is Arravale Rovers in Tipperary, as McCurtains’ resurgence continues.

The footballers intermediate championship success this year will see it return to the senior ranks in 2020 for the first time since 2008. O’Dwyer was manager of the footballers when they won intermediate in 2007.

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
London intermediate champions Thomas McCurtains

McCurtains through and through since joining the club in 1972, O’Dwyer won senior and intermediate hurling championships in 1987 and 1975 respectively.

1987 remains the club’s one and only London senior hurling success. Ambrose Gordon was the manager with Bill Treacy and Tom Watson among his selectors.

In 2008, at the grand age of 57, O’Dwyer was part of another McCurtains IHC winning team – O’Dwyer played in goal.

In football, O’Dwyer also helped the club to intermediate and junior titles in 1984 and 1980.

Now 68, O’Dwyer has been chairman since 2006, when he took over from Roscommon native Tom Watson. He’s got some way to go to match his predecessor, however, who put in a 40-year shift.

“He [Tom Watson] was a hard act to follow, I can tell you. He’s amazing; there wouldn’t be a club without him and he’s still heavily involved.”

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
Thomas McCurtains’ Conor Murphy will be one of their danger men. Photo: Sheila Fernandes

But thanks to the likes of Tom there is, and on Sunday the club will head west in force along the A406 to Ruislip – the scene of some very memorable days for the club in recent times.

Unlike 14 years ago, when the club’s hurlers travelled to Castleblaney, this time around McCurtains’ footballers will have home advantage.

“It’s massive; it’s a massive boost to be playing on our home turf,” said O’Dwyer.

“We’re really looking forward to it, the lads are training well. We obviously celebrated after winning the All-Britain, but they were back training on the Thursday night, and have just carried on.”

And McCurtains have every reason to be confident. They’re a side which has matured together from winning that junior title in 2017 and a team in every sense of the word.

McCurtains date with All-Ireland destiny
Niall Coffey has been in excellent form for McCurtains during their run to the All-Ireland quarter-final. Photo: Damian Dolan

There are no superstars here. Just an honest bunch of players who have 100 per cent trust in the man next to them.

“We’ve really progressed since 2017. We added to that team the likes of the McGuigans, Johnny and Paddy, who’ve been massive, and Johnny and Peter Rafferty. All good quality players,” said O’Dwyer.

“We’ve a very balanced team now and every single one of them is putting in that extra bit of effort and working really hard.”

It’s been a great year for Thomas McCurtains, but now they want next year to surpass it. Running out at Croker would certainly do that.

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