Ronan Curtis has been an important player for the Ireland U21 team of late. Niall Carson

‘I didn't get spotted when I was young… I'd say it's better to go over to England when you're a man’

Ireland U21 international Ronan Curtis on leaving Derry and his fantastic start in League One with Portsmouth.

EVEN FOR PLAYERS who are thoroughly dominant in the League of Ireland, a successful career in England once the switch is made is by no means guaranteed.

Footballers such as Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle, all of whom excelled in the domestic game, have made less-than-smooth transitions to English football, although Towell, to be fair, has recovered well from a disappointing start at Brighton and impressed while on loan at Rotherham last season.

Others, of course, have been big success stories across the water — players such as Seamus Coleman, Wes Hoolahan, James McClean and Kevin Doyle spring to mind.

Ronan Curtis could yet go either way, but the early signs are promising. Having left Derry City in the summer, his start to life at League One outfit Portsmouth could hardly have gone much better.

The 22-year-old recently enjoyed a fine competitive debut for his new club, producing a cross for Jamal Lowe’s pivotal goal amid a 1-0 opening-day victory over Luton.

The next match was even more memorable, as Curtis registered a brace in his side’s 2-1 win over Blackpool.

Later today, Pompey host Oxford, as Curtis and co look to maintain their 100% start to the season.

Following the match-winning performance against Blackpool, manager Kenny Jackett was full of praise for his summer signing.

“A couple of goals will really help his confidence and he also hit the post during the first half,” he said.

“He’s been playing in a competitive and physical league and to see him build on that over here in League One is great.

It’s still early days, but the thing that’s impressed me most is his willingness to work hard for the team.

“Whatever talents people have and whatever role they play, you have to be selfless and put Pompey first.”

Curtis, meanwhile, is understandably on cloud nine after this impressive start at his new club.

“I didn’t expect to play as much as I have done,” he tells The42. “But he put his trust in me, Kenny. He’s given me my chance and I’ve taken it. I just wanted to thank him for letting me have the chance and then to score two at the weekend and the week before that, to set up one, I’m very grateful.”

While believing that the top sides in Ireland such as Dundalk and Cork could compete well in League One, Curtis feels the overall standard is much higher compared with what he had previously been accustomed to.

“It is a step up, there’s no question about it,” he explains. “The tempo’s quicker and stuff. But I think I’m used to it.

“You go in in the mornings, you have the kit laid out. Everything’s washed for you. You get your breakfast and lunch made for you. You go home and all you have to do is cook your dinner.

It is very, very professional… [Derry] are professional, don’t get me wrong, but it is much more professional over here.”

Curtis has settled in well off the field too. He is living just outside Portsmouth in a three bedroom house — roughly 10 minutes away from the training ground and stadium.

The youngster, who has been tried out on the wing and in a more central attacking role since moving to the club, credits Jackett for inspiring him to play with the confidence that has led to his fantastic start at Fratton Park.

“He just said ‘go out and play your own game’. Just after pre season, he said ‘you’re doing well, I’m liking the way you’re going about playing, you look very sharp. Just take it into the season,’ which I have done. I’m just over the moon really and want to kick on now, hopefully get at least 12-15 goals for my first year.”

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Asked why unlike a number other League of Ireland alumnae, he has taken little time to find his feet in English football, Curtis adds: “They had their chance. They’re still here, but I’ve just come in, worked hard, kept my feet on the floor and taken my chance .

“The way I look at it is if you’re good enough in the League of Ireland, if you’re a young player in your early 20s and dedicated in what you want to become [you'll do well in England]. That was my ambition anyway, to keep my head down, work hard when I was at Derry, and better myself.

“You ask every young footballer at the age of 17 up to 25, they want to be in England — that’s where you get noticed and that’s where you want to be, playing in front of crowds and playing in the best stadiums, that’s what I done.”

It is not Curtis’ first time in England though. In fact, he was born in London, before moving with his family to Donegal at the age of eight.

I loved it when I was a kid really. Ireland is my home. Ireland will be, after football, where I’ll go — that’s where I lived. It’s where my mum’s from, so that’s where I would move to.”

Curtis was talented enough as a youngster to be invited to join Derry City’s academy and it wasn’t long before he made his debut. He would spend five memorable years with the Candystripes in total.

“I was only young and I was playing with Derry underage when I was about 15 or 16. I just played in the Foyle Cup here and there. There were no clubs interested. Then, when I got into the first team, that’s when the clubs [became interested].”

With the benefit of hindsight, Curtis feels grateful that he didn’t make the move to England too soon and instead got his first taste of senior football in the League of Ireland.

“You come over when you’re 13, 14 or 15 and you might be in the development in the academy. You could get homesick, because you’re that young, and come home if things don’t work out for you.

It’s worked out really well for me. I didn’t get spotted when I was young, but I worked hard at it, I ground it out and I’m here now. From my point of view, I’d say it’s better to go over to England when you’re a man really and you know what you want and what you need to do. I’m 22, I know what I need and I know what I want.”

Nonetheless, while focused on the future, the winger retains fond memories of his time at Derry.

“That was where I was brought up. The staff loved me, all the boys loved me, it was all my mates that I was growing up with. Stepping out on that pitch and seeing my family and all the boys, every moment was my best moment.”

Prior to joining Portsmouth, he came close to leaving the League of Ireland on another occasion last year. After impressing in Derry’s Europa League clash with Danish club FC Midtjylland, Swedish side Östersunds FK made a bid believed to be in the region of €150,000 for the player. The offer was accepted, but Curtis ultimately failed to agree personal terms — an outcome that has perhaps turned out to be a blessing in disguise, given what the player has achieved since.

“I went out [to Sweden] with the intention of signing. It was just up to me really how it ended up. I just couldn’t agree personal terms. I came back and worked even harder at Derry for a few months.

[Portsmouth] all came about here, because I served my time at Derry. I was there for five years and did everything for the club. I’ve given it 120% every week and that’s what the gaffer, Kenny Shiels, said to me before I left.”

Even while at Derry, Curtis was one of just two domestic players (along with former clubmate Ronan Hale) selected for Noel King’s most recent Ireland U21 squad. Representing the senior national side is another ambition he hopes to fulfil some day, while he encourages others to learn from his success.

“Just work hard,” he says. “If players want to make it over in England, just keep your head down, you never know who is watching at your games. I never thought I would get this chance and look what’s happened to me.”

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