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Naomh Éanna stalwart Curran dreaming of Croker appearance

Naomh Éanna midfielder Philly Curran and manager Frank Fitzsimons embrace following the county final win over Gort na Móna Naomh Éanna midfielder Philly Curran and manager Frank Fitzsimons embrace following the county final win over Gort na Móna
By Paddy Tierney

“It takes more balls to do what Philly (Curran) has done than someone going out half fit and maybe losing you the game. He made that call for the greater good. He is as good a club man as I’ve ever seen along my travels throughout my days. He is the epitome of what a club man should be”
Naomh Éanna manager, Frank Fitzsimons

AS the biggest game in the history of his club drew closer, Philly Curran knew the odds were stacked against him. He faced a late fitness test to determine whether or not he could face Mullahoran in the Ulster Club Intermediate Football Final on Saturday, December 1.

As spectators began filing into Armagh’s Athletic Grounds, purchasing programmes which optimistically listed Curran at midfield alongside Joe Maskey, he knew he had a difficult call to make.

The management team gave him to the very last minute, but like a student who hadn’t studied for an exam, he knew he was doomed to fail the test. He summoned the courage to tell Frank Fitzsimons, Pat Hughes and Thomas McNulty he would play no part in the Ulster final.

Despite the hurt in his heart, he knew he was making the right call and he had every faith that his teammates could do the business against the Cavan champions.

“It was a very emotional decision to make,” recalled Curran.

“I went out and did a warm-up on my own on the pitch. I knew the thigh muscle wasn’t right. I knew I’d be letting the team down. I had played every league game and every Championship game to that point.

“It was bad luck at the worst time of the year. I had to make a decision to put the team first. I knew there were boys there that are big, fit and strong. Ethan Gibson came in and did a great job.

“It was heart-breaking – this could be my last season playing football – but the club won an Ulster Championship and that was the end-game.”

Goals in either half from Kristian Healy and Joe Maskey helped Naomh Éanna secure a 2-11 to 1-10 victory over Mullhoran as the Hightown men secured a first Ulster football title at Intermediate level for an Antrim club.

Naomh Éanna bid to reach the All-Ireland final when they take on Galway outfit An Spidéal this Sunday in Navan. Curran admitted the fear of causing further damage and missing out on a potential appearance at Croke Park made the decision a bit easier.

“That was always at the back of my mind,” he said.

“If I went out and tore the muscle, I’d be out for two months and, possibly, miss out on the chance to play with my club at Croke Park in an All-Ireland final… but we have to get past An Spidéal first.”

In his absence, his midfield partner Maskey stole the show with a stunning second half performance which took the game by the scuff of the neck. A brilliant mark when Mullahoran had the upper hand seemed to change the momentum and he cemented the turnaround with a classy goal minutes later.

Maskey, a rising star with the Antrim senior hurlers, is quickly becoming a cult hero in the county and a video of his team mates doing the ‘Kolo/Yaya Touré’ chant, but with his name, after the Ulster final quickly went viral.

Yet, Curran remarked: “I’d be tight enough with Joe and everyone was saying he was man-of-the-match in the Ulster final and I was telling him he forgot to play the first half!

“The catch he made in the second half when we needed possession was unbelievable. For a hurler to do that is impressive! He is a legend – it is hard to believe he is only 21.”


The bond and camaraderie between the players and the management team has carried them through their remarkable 2018 season.

Having comfortably retained their Division One status, Naomh Éanna embarked on a seven-game winning Championship run that saw them annex the Antrim and Ulster Intermediate titles.

Curran feels that after they defeated Moneyglass, usually a fair benchmark at the Intermediate grade, he started to believe what others in the changing room were saying about their future prospects.

“There is a great buzz about the place,” stated the veteran midfielder.

“When we went up from Division Two to Division One, everyone decided to put everything into it. We wanted to stay in Division One and push for a Championship.

“The age profile of the team helped the change – our average age was 21 last season.

“We probably should have finished in the top six, but it was still a very good league campaign.

“We played Moneyglass in the Antrim semi-final and we probably thought they were our toughest team in the Championship. We felt after we got over Moneyglass, we could go all the way.

“I’ve spoken to Frank (Fitzsimons) throughout the season and he has always felt there was an Ulster title in this team never mind an Antrim Championship. I’m always the pessimist, but he was confident in the team. I think once the Moneyglass game was done, I started to believe.”


Indeed, Naomh Éanna grew in stature with every win and, following their five-point win over the Gorts in the county final, they were primed for an assault on Ulster.

“Antrim had never won an Ulster Intermediate Football Championship and we weren’t given much of a chance against Doohamlet,” reflected Curran.

“The Tattyreagh game was probably the toughest game we played. A team that is going to play senior football in Tyrone next season is a good side.

“We were a kick of a ball away from getting beat, but we’ve got the rub of the green when we’ve needed it this year.

“If you were to look back at any of our games this year, almost every time we’ve conceded a goal, we’ve went down the pitch and got a score. This team don’t drop their heads.”

That unbreakable spirit is ingrained in the DNA of Naomh Éanna. Curran has been around the block long enough to remember the dark days when survival was about more than just winning a game of football.

Having started out at the club as a six-year old, Curran remembers lining out alongside Gerard Lawlor as a teenager.

The Troubles were meant to be over when the 19-year-old was gunned down by loyalists in July 2002. To date, no one has been brought to justice for his murder.

Sadly, he wasn’t the only Naomh Éanna member to lose their life during the Troubles. Football mentor Gerry Devlin was shot dead at the clubhouse in December 1997.

In a nod to their tragic past, several of the current squad wore armbands with the phrase “Be Big” emblazed on them. It was Devlin’s famous rallying cry from the sidelines during his time in charge of the seniors.

“I have always spoken to the lads about this – I was pretty close to it myself,” said Curran.

“My finances’ uncle was Gerry Devlin. Maybe they didn’t take it in until I did the piece with The Irish News before the Ulster final.

“One of my mates (Gerard Lawlor) was shot dead. It would be like us going for a few beers after a game and someone being shot on their way home – that’s how it happened to Gerard. It really hit home with them.

“They carried it forward with them and three or four of them and insulating tape with ‘Be Big’ written on it for the Ulster final. I love that. It is unbelievable that we came through all that to be one game away from an All-Ireland final.”

Curran’s involvement in Sunday’s semi-final is in doubt due the thigh muscle injury which ruled him out of the Ulster decider and he revealed that this career with the footballers is coming to an end regardless of how the season pans out.

“This could be my last year as a senior footballer,” stated Curran.

“I would like to have one year of playing hurling under ‘Sambo’ (Terence McNaughton, who was recently appointed an Naomh Éanna hurling manager). I know the footballers have a big squad and good players coming through. I’ll be there if needs be, but I’d like to work with ‘Sambo’ for a year.

“I am 35 this year and trying to be a dual player is tough. It takes its toll on the body. I am a mechanic and I always compare myself to cars – I must be on about 400,000 miles at the minute!”

Curran, in a previous interview with the North Belfast News last year stated he was hanging on to win an Intermediate Championship so he can “bow out in a blaze of Guinness” – but now he’ll be hoping for a swansong in the city where they brew the famous stout.

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