Darren McCurry hoping to get his mojo back in Tyrone colours
Allianz National Football League
TYRONE forward Darren McCurry wasn't sure he would ever get his mojo back.
In flying form for the Red Hands as they came so close to reaching an All-Ireland final in 2015, a first county title in 30 years for Edendork a couple of months later, life was good.
But then, like the flick of a switch, he hit a wall. When his club was knocked out of Ulster by Loughinisland, McCurry didn't want to see a ball, a gym, a football pitch, nothing.
This wasn't just a sickener from a bad defeat. Mickey Harte told him to take a break but even with the passing of time, McCurry wasn't sure he wanted to return to the inter-county scene.
“I had a good year for Tyrone, getting man-of-the-match in the All-Ireland quarter-final and that sort of stuff so I felt deadly confident, but after getting beat [by Loughinisland] I just didn't want to play,” said the 24-year-old plumber.
“I didn't actually want to go back – I felt like I didn't have the hunger for it and that's not like me because I've always practised my whole life. For the first time from under 16, for five weeks, I never kicked one ball.
“I found that hard to deal with and then, when I came back, I just wasn't there.”
Having been a regular starter the previous year, McCurry was in and out of the team as Tyrone coasted to the Division Two title. An ankle injury towards the end of that campaign only sought to compound his sense of anxiety.
“I just didn't feel myself and then I got injured a couple of weeks before the league final and that put a real downer on it - I was never injured in my life, and I knew it would be tight for the Championship.
“I just had something in the back of my head, I don't know. It was so frustrating, I was putting wild pressure on myself.”
There was little sign of McCurry's inner turmoil when he replaced Mark Bradley 25 minutes into Tyrone's Ulster Championship quarter-final win over Derry, firing over four points in an easy win at Celtic Park.
Despite that starring cameo, McCurry was back on the bench for the last four clash with Cavan. He was hugely disappointed, and told Harte so.
“Of course, but he explained to me that other boys were playing better than me. I knew that myself like but still, I felt I was going well.”
It was same again in the Ulster final. He knew himself he wasn't at his best, that he hadn't put the work in.
Determined to make sure he never finds himself in that position again, McCurry has come back better than ever in 2017. Looking sharp, feeling fit and fresh, he has never come into a season with such confidence.
A huge fan of MMA superstar Conor McGregor, the confidence gained from a solid winter of preparation has put the strut back in McCurry's step as he bids to go from benchwarmer back to the big time.
“I just love watching him, the way he portrays himself, the way he carries himself – he thinks he is the man,” said McCurry of the braggadocious Dubliner.
“Sometimes I feel like that too - it's all confidence. If you're playing well and feeling confident, you really can express yourself.
“This year I have taken a completely different approach. I don't want to play on the bench. I feel like I'm good enough to start, I'm good enough to be one of the main players out there.
“When I'm at my best I don't think anybody can touch me. I put a big pre-season in, started in November maybe in the gym.
“I'm flying fit, it's the best I've felt – mindset and everything – coming into a season. It's mad, you go from playing so well one year to there being no talk about you. You're forgotten straight away, so this year feel I have a point to prove.”
McCurry talks about the feeling he gets when he is on top form. The last time he experienced it in county colours was against Monaghan at Croke Park 19 months ago.
With Tyrone's Division One campaign starting at home to Roscommon on Sunday, he is determined to get that buzz back.
“It's weird one,” he says.
“Say you hit a pass or kick a point and it's like an adrenaline rush goes through you and you know ‘Holy Ghost, it's going to happen for me today, I feel lethal'.
“That's why I play because when you get that feeling you feel like nobody can touch you, you feel like you're the best player there is and it's a deadly feeling to get.
“That's the feeling I'm looking for again.”