Captain Chris Curran ends his playing days and leaves Solitude an Irish Cup legend

‘I’m just grateful for the last 10/11 years and grateful for that feeling to celebrate with the lads’

Clearer Water Irish Cup Final
Cliftonville Fans  during this Afternoon’s game at NFS @ Windsor Park, Belfast.  
Photo - Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press
Chris Curran of Cliftonville after winning the Irish Cup on Saturday (Andrew McCarroll/Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press)
Clearer Water Irish Cup final: Linfield 1 Cliftonville 3 (aet)

From Brendan Crossan at Windsor Park

HAS there ever been a more romantic end to a playing career than Chris Curran’s?

The Cavan man may well be enjoying the wonderful after-glow of the north Belfast club’s first Irish Cup success in 45 years – but his playing days are now over.

Saturday’s epic extra-time victory over Linfield was the mother of all full stops to the club captain’s career who plans to move to America with his partner in the coming months.

To think of Curran in the past tense will be difficult for everyone associated with the club to comprehend given his gargantuan contribution over the last 11 years.

A league winner in his first season (2013/14) under the late Tommy Breslin, Curran leaves with an Irish Cup winner’s medal in his last-ever competitive game and a bagful of memories he’ll cherish.

The Reds trailed to a 14th minute Ethan McGee header in Saturday’s showpiece decider before Sam Ashford equalised with a 52nd minute glancing header.

Thereafter, Ronan Hale owned the stage by firing the Reds into the lead with a thumping effort at the beginning of extra-time and the striker won the cup with another right at the death to send the thousands of Cliftonville fans into dreamland.

Curran, a former Manchester United youth team player, was introduced in the 88th minute for the tiring Conor Pepper and put in a fantastic shift in Cliftonville’s engine room for the duration of extra-time.

With Curran starting on the bench, Rory Hale captained the side but insisted that Curran and the club’s record goal-scorer Joe Gormley lift the cup.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Curran.

“I could never have imagined this would have happened. In the early days, I was very fortunate to sign for Manchester United but that always comes with a tag.

“You’re known as that player who used to play for Manchester United but one of the best things about the last 11 years and today is that I think I’ll be known as the captain who won an Irish Cup with Cliftonville.”

Gormley joked in the post-match press conference that he was pleading with his team-mate to “please stop crying”.

Leaving Cliftonville wasn’t a decision Curran took lightly but at 33 and having played a lot of games from the bench over the past couple of seasons, the time was right for him to hang up his boots.

“It hasn’t been a snap decision,” he explained. “I was contemplating it last season and I’m just so happy that I hung in there for another year after Jim [Magilton] invited me back.

“There were different conversations about potentially going in with the coaching staff and I’m sure that would have been special as well but to play, there is no comparison.

“I’m just grateful for the last 10/11 years and grateful for that feeling to celebrate with the lads. I don’t think I will have any hang-ups or any second thoughts – I just feel satisfied.

“Winning the Irish Cup probably is the highlight because of the big gap [between the league win 10 years earlier and this Irish Cup win].

“We’ve been semi-successful, we won a few League Cups, a couple of Co Antrim Shields, we qualified for Europe very often – and I think a lot of that can be missed.

“But, at the same time, you want to challenge for major honours, so to go and win a league title in my first season, that creates expectations that we were going to do that every season. And every season you didn’t do it was a disappointment for people.

“So, after all that, this is the highlight.”

As he leaves Solitude for the final time, Chrissy Curran will be told a thousand times over by Cliftonville fans that the pleasure over the last 11 years was all theirs.

Chris Curran and Joe Gormley lift the Irish Cup Cliftonville's win over Linfield in Saturday's final at Windsor Park on Saturday
Chris Curran and Joe Gormley lift the Irish Cup (Andrew McCarroll/Andrew McCarroll/ Pacemaker Press)