As the curtain comes down on the various English League campaigns it’s been interesting to note the fortunes of some of Derry City’s former stars who have featured prominently for their respective cross-Channel clubs.
It’s always nice to see one of your own succeeding in the game and for one ex-Candy Stripe it’s been one hell of a year since his summer move from the League of Ireland.
St Johnston man, Ronan Curtis has enjoyed a dream first campaign in English football since signing for League One outfit Portsmouth, appearing 51 times for Kenny Jackett’s promotion-chasers, reaching double figures for goals (12) and topping the club’s assist chart with 15.
If one had to guess which player from last season’s City squad had the confidence, mentality and ability to make it across the Channel, you would have to say Curtis would’ve been the stand-out candidate.
And to think the hard-working front man could potentially play at Wembley Stadium twice in the one season - a magnificent achievement.
When he walked off the pitch at Dalymount Park last June in his final farewell to the Derry City fans after a 2-1 win, who would’ve predicted such an incredible turn of events in such a short space of time?
Certainly not me and Curtis himself admits he has had to pinch himself at times. In a recent interview with the ‘Journal’, the London born striker admitted he never dreamed of breaking straight into the Pompey first team set-up, never mind becoming a key player in Jackett’s starting XI as he burst onto the scene at Fratton Park with a string of goals and assists.
It’s been a long slog of a year for the former Foyle Harps and Swilly Rovers man who made 22 appearances for Derry last year before completing his £100,000 switch to the 2008 FA Cup winners in the summer.
He’s also been busy on the international front having won the U21 Player of the Year award and progressed into the Republic of Ireland senior team, winning caps against Northern Ireland and Denmark under Martin O’Neill.
And it seems the confident front man will also play a part in Mick McCarthy’s plans having been called up for Ireland’s training camp in Portugal at the end of the month before the Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Denmark in June.
It’s certainly been an eventful season for Curtis who severed his finger in a freak accident in March and he’s been forced to change his mobile number having received a series of abusive calls in recent weeks.
However, despite those struggles and the fact he’s been playing almost non-stop from Derry City’s pre-season training camp in January 2018, he’s certainly taken to life in League One like a duck to water.
His superb form has attracted the interest of several top Championship clubs with his former youth coach, Leroy McCourt, a scout for several English and Scottish clubs, revealing he’s had enquiries about Curtis from quite a few top level suitors.
With Portsmouth still in with a shot of reaching the Championship themselves via the play-offs, Curtis could well remain at Fratton Park next season. After a dip in form he was handed a start in the first leg of the play-off semi-final against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as Pompey lost 1-0 to the 10 man Black Cats. His cheeky nutmeg on Bryan Oviedo in that match is worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it.
The Blues will be confident they can turn it around at home and reach a second Wembley final of the year having already won the Checkatrade Trophy against Sunderland. So let’s hope Curtis can complete an outstanding first year in English football with a promotion on his CV on Thursday and it could mean a further financial boost for Derry City’s coffers should he be subject of another transfer.
Another ex-Derry City winger who was involved in a dramatic climax to the season in League One was Stephen McLaughlin who helped steer Southend United clear of relegation.
The Shrimpers clinched a 2-1 win over Sunderland on the final day of the season at Roots Hall to secure safety with McLaughlin, a fans’ favourite, playing the full 90 minutes.
In fact Southend scored the opening goal from McLaughlin’s corner kick a couple of minutes before the break. It’s also been an eventful year for the Isle of Doagh native as he became a first time father to a baby daughter last March.
Meanwhile James McClean ended the season with Stoke City in disappointing fashion, finishing 16th in the Championship and he’ll be hoping the Potters can strengthen and make a sustained push for promotion next season.
His former Derry City teammate and good friend, Danny Lafferty was released by Premiership newboys, Sheffield United last week and will have no shortage of offers from clubs in the Championship or League One during the close season.
The Carnhill man certainly has lots to offer and, having been described as ‘priceless’ by Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder, he will be a terrific addition to any team who takes a punt!
Of course young Rory Holden is currently on loan at Rochdale from Bristol City alongside ex-Derry City and Cork City winger, Stephen Dooley who has been on the fringes of the starting XI since making his move.
Holden, who signed for Bristol City from the Brandywell club at the end of last season, went on loan to Rochdale in January and made an instant impact. He made his debut as a substitute in 4-0 home defeat to Burton Albion on January 5th and went on to start the next five matches.
Since the 2-1 win over Walsall on February 2nd, however, the midfielder hasn’t featured but was an unused sub against Luton and Gillingham in March so it will be interesting to see if he can force his way into the Bristol City first team squad next season.
Another ex-Candy Stripe who spent a loan spell with his hometown club in 2017, Mikhail Kennedy will join the long list of EFL League One players who will become free agents this summer from promotion chasing, Charlton having spent a large part of the season on loan at Chelmsford City and Concord Rangers. He’s made no secret of his desire to return to Derry City and could potentially be in line for a return to Irish football.
It’s interesting to keep tabs on the former Derry City men and see how they fare in the top divisions in England. Judging by Curtis’ recent form for Portsmouth, it says an awful lot about the Brandywell club and its ability to nurture the best young talent in the North West of Ireland.