Method in the last man standing’s madness

All-Ireland club final the perfect stage for 41-year-old after a storied career

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 11:13

Though the world is wide and you can see a lot of it lying on the flat of your back, maybe the last thing anyone expected Shane Curran to see was sense. Yet it came. Dropping slow for sure but it came all the same. It was during the Connacht club semi-final last November between St Brigid’s and Salthill/Knocknacarra and the occasion was the rapid and painful ending of one of the Brigid’s goalkeeper’s trademark forays out the pitch.

This particular voyage didn’t get halfway to the horizon before a shooting pain in his 41-year-old quad muscle sank him to the ocean floor. Kevin McStay left his spot on the sideline and stood over his goalkeeper, half-annoyed and half-amused.

“Kevin came out and said to me, ‘Look it, you could do it 10 years ago. You can’t do it now,’” says Curran. “And I was lying on the ground going, ‘Kevin, I’m only realising that now!’ So I won’t be doing it again. I don’t have it in me to find my way back these days so that’s probably the last one.”

Pause. Beat. Smile. Can’t resist. “Although if the occasion demands it . . .”

Fun to have him around again, ain’t it? Shane Curran, three weeks short of his 42nd birthday and still crazy after all these years. The last chance saloon’s last chancer. A Jackson Pollock painting in a Power Point world.

One morning a couple of weeks back, his phone dinged with a message from Brigid’s selector Benny O’Brien. It was a photo of the pair of them together, taken on March 17th 2011. Both had a creamy pint in hand and the background was the inside of The Big Tree on Dorset Street, an hour and a half before St Brigid’s faced Crossmaglen in the All Ireland final. Curran had chronic back trouble at the time and his doctor had warned him that any playing future he thought he had was behind him. Yet here he is, back in Croke Park, back in an All Ireland final of his own.

“I’m not one for retiring. I always said that I wouldn’t retire. I think the game retires you rather than the other way around. I never really got people who announced their retirement. If people ask me am I going to hang the gloves up, I always say, ‘No, they’ll hang me up.’ That’s the way it should be. The game is offered to you when you’re good enough to play it and it’s taken away when you’re not good enough. That’s what ends a career.”

Ah, but which career are we talking here? Where most of us are granted but one life, Curran is on at least his 103rd. There was the one as the hotshot teenage soccer goalkeeper back in the mid-1980s who had both Manchester clubs sniffing around him. There was the one as the star minor forward for Roscommon and later the self-styled “best club footballer in the county”.

There was the one as the Athlone Town goalkeeper for much of the ’90s. There was the one as the Roscommon captain and totem in the middle of the last decade. And now this. If life is a department store, Curran has stopped on every floor for a mooch around.

It’s 22 years ago since the weather changed his life. Actually no, that’s wrong. Flip it completely and we’re somewhere close to the truth. It’s 22 years since the weather left his life exactly as it was. Back then, Pat Devlin was over him at Athlone Town and he doubled as a set of eyes and ears for Kenny Dalglish, then the manager of Liverpool. As the potential those eyes could see far outweighed the occasional nonsense those ears had to listen to, Devlin recommended Curran for a professional contract.

“The deal was done, I know that much,” Curran laughs. “What happened was that there was very heavy snow at the time in the UK and all the training grounds were shut. So before the deal could be signed, they wanted me to come over and train with them. I was told to be ready to fly to Liverpool on the Monday or the Tuesday but sure then all the flights were cancelled. And then when they got the flights up and going again, there were no pitches available. It was put off and put off again for a few weeks.

“Next thing, Dalglish walked out of the job! By the time there were pitches available, Dalglish was gone. Liverpool had that famous 4-4 draw with Everton and he left straight after it. And that meant that the whole thing went pear shaped for me.

“But look, if it had happened, I could have got killed in a car crash, I would never have met my wife, I wouldn’t have the two kids I have. What’s for you won’t pass you by.”

What turned out to be for him was the more mundane fare of League of Ireland football. He enjoyed it well enough for what it was, knocked a few years of scrapes and times out of it. Made big money too, eh Shane?

“I think at that time, I was on a contract of £100 a game but sure you’d be lucky if you saw £20 of it. You’d pick up more on a bet on a horse than you would standing in goals. The contracts meant nothing. It was all cash. If you had a big gate, you were happy because you knew you were going to get paid. But if there was a small gate, you knew you’d be going home empty-handed. But you never played it for money.”

Instead, what he did for money was, essentially, dream. He thought up new ways of doing things, tried his hand at designing objects people didn’t know they needed yet. When he was a national figure as the Roscommon goalkeeper, Curran ran into Pat Daly in Croke Park. Daly was talking about the idea of a kicking tee for goalkeepers and asked he if he could think of a way to bring it on a step. Damn right he could.

“I had the idea years and years ago actually. Back in about 1992 or ’93, I was kicking off a tee in a game against Clann na nGael. The referee was a guy called Seán Mullaney, a great local referee. These were the days when goalkeepers used to dig big mountains with their heels and toes into the pitch to take the kick-outs off.

“So I decided I’d try something different and I cut the bottom off a plastic Seven-Up bottle and put it down on the ground to kick it off. But the Clann na Gael forwards started complaining. And Seán came in to me and said, ‘Shane-een, you can’t use that.’ So it was a short-lived thing. But 12 years later, lo and behold . . .”

He teamed up with business partner Ronnie Byrne to invent the Puntee. It’s used by goalkeepers all across the country and further afield as well by international rugby players. That business went well but had nowhere near the success of Global Flood Solutions, which he set up in 2010. On the back of their Big Bag flood barrier invention, Curran and Byrne have signed deals worth millions right across the globe.

“I have failed in business at an early point and without the sport, you definitely wouldn’t have the courage or the enthusiasm to go again. Because sport teaches you a lot about yourself and about people around you. You very quickly find out who are the guys who run out of the barn at the first sign of trouble and who are the guys who’ll stand with you. And you find out as well what you yourself are made of. Can you get back on the horse?”

All in all, it’s not bad going for the stone mad messer he’d have you think he is. That layer of himself – the side of him that actor Chris O’Dowd describes as “likely to ride a bull into a church” – is the one he’s always happily made available to the outside world. But of course he was never as madcap as he let on. Nobody who ever listened to him fillet the latest RTÉ panellist who annoyed him could ever think that he was.

“I think it’s funny. I’m a gregarious type of fella. Maybe I’m mad, I don’t know. I suppose the way I play and the way I go on is a bit different. And something is different, people will find a way of putting that into a box and saying it’s this or it’s that. But over time, different becomes the norm.

“You see it now even – every goalkeeper in the country is taking 50s. When I did it, people were giving out left and right about it. And in 10 years, maybe the game will evolve to the point where all goalkeepers are told that coming out with the ball is part of their role the whole time. And people will go, ‘It was yer man from Rosommon who started that. The crazy fella.’

“Maybe I said too much over the years but I think you should say what you feel. Because that’s what you feel. If you’re wrong, who cares?

“It’s what you feel. I see a lot of managers these days and they’re afraid to say anything only clichés. They don’t say that they’ll, for instance, get Roscommon out of Division Three, purely because some asshole is going to come along in three months’ time and say, ‘Well you didn’t get Roscommon out of Division Three.’ But what about it? It doesn’t matter. If you have total confidence in yourself, you have to be true to it.”

Nobody could accuse him of lacking in that. What he does lack though is much by way of silverware. It would be criminal in his eyes now if this St Brigid’s team that has four of the last seven Connacht titles in their bank-roll didn’t parlay them into at least one All-Ireland.

“When you’ve been where this club has been and where this team in particular has been, it’s not so much an ache, it’s a heartache. It’s something that is huge within us. And hopefully it should be the difference between us winning and losing.”

If it is or if it isn’t, Curran doesn’t see the end coming anytime in the very near future. The 50-yard dashes up the field might be in the past but he’s still fit and still agile and if there’s another year or two in him well he isn’t going to argue with it.

Yes, he’s seen sense. But too much of it would be madness.