‘Defeat was never an option’ for Portsmouth forward – even as a youngster in Donegal 

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By his own admission, Ronan Curtis did not expect to make such a scintillating start at Pompey.

The charismatic Irishman has taken League One by storm, after arriving at Fratton Park from Derry City for an undisclosed fee in June.

Ronan Curtis, right, alongside former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houlton, centre, and his friend Jason McCahill when playing for Swilly Rovers. Picture: Swilly Rovers

Ronan Curtis, right, alongside former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houlton, centre, and his friend Jason McCahill when playing for Swilly Rovers. Picture: Swilly Rovers

Despite expecting to be on the substitutes’ bench in the opening months of his maiden Football League campaign, the 22-year-old has quickly become an indispensable member of Kenny Jackett’s side.

His five goals and five assists to date have put the Blues on the early path to automatic promotion after nine matches.

Pompey sit second in the table ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Rochdale. 

Curtis has swiftly endeared himself to the Fratton faithful during his short time at PO4 – and that’s not just down to his efforts in the final third.

Ronan Curtis, bottom of centre, celebrating Brian McCormick Cup victory with Swilly Rovers   Picture: Swilly Rovers

Ronan Curtis, bottom of centre, celebrating Brian McCormick Cup victory with Swilly Rovers Picture: Swilly Rovers

His passion, fervour and determination has been appreciated by Blues fans and team-mates alike.

Curtis clearly has a hunger to succeed and won’t settle for second best.

And that's an attitude that’s been with him his entire career – starting off when he was in his homeland.

During his junior days at Kildrum Tigers and Swilly Rovers, both based in County Donegal, Curtis was regarded as a player who was going to make it as a professional.

Ronan Curtis celebrates his match-winner at Bristol Rovers earlier this season. Picture: Joe Pepler

Ronan Curtis celebrates his match-winner at Bristol Rovers earlier this season. Picture: Joe Pepler

He had talent in abundance and a willingness to never scotch any advice he was offered. But his demeanour was the most striking.

Curtis was under the tutelage of Chris McNulty for two seasons at Kildrum.

The south London-born talent was competing against players two and three years his senior in an under-16 side.

That never daunted Curtis, though, nor did he ever look physically out of place.

McNulty remembers vividly Curtis’ most impressive trait was his appetite for victory. He said: ‘Even though he was 13, playing against guys aged 16, he held his own and with no trouble at all.

‘He always had the bit between his teeth and the bigger the game, the better Ronan played.

‘He believed in his own ability and he always wanted to win no matter what it took. 

‘Some opponents would say he’s arrogant but he knew how good he was and how good he could be.

‘He beat himself up if we ever lost. He demanded high standards and defeat was never an option.’

McNulty recalls when his Tigers side, who also featured former Celtic and current Dundalk winger Michael Duffy, were knocked out of the All-Ireland Cup quarter-finals.

Despite the club reaching the last eight for just the second time in their history, Curtis failed to take any positives from the feat.

‘For a lot of people, losing in the last eight of the All-Ireland Cup was an achievement in itself because we are a small club and this was a national competition,’ added McNulty.

‘But Ronan, and a few of the guys on that team, couldn’t understand being congratulated for reaching the quarter-finals.

‘He was just so disappointed to lose.

‘He was a bad loser, which I think is an exceptional trait to have, and it has definitely got him to where he is now.

‘He was a great character and would laugh and joke around the place while maintaining his high standards.

‘He always wanted to learn and to get better.

‘Ronan was never the kid who knew everything.

‘He was always a pleasure – anything you told him to do he would.’

Curtis’ hurtling progress would see him depart Kildrum – based in his home village of St Johnston – to focus his full attention on Swilly Rovers, near Letterkenny. 

After a recommendation from a friend, coach Freddy Boyle immediately recognised Curtis’ talent in training. 

‘The minute I saw him I knew he was a good footballer,’ said the Ramelton man.

‘He headed the ball and I knew he could play.

‘Then when he started playing his movement was very good.

‘He had a high level of enthusiasm, athletic ability and he wanted to learn.

‘We played at a higher tempo than his previous club and his athleticism helped him adapt.

‘He always seemed to make the runs and the correct runs, being able to sniff out half-a-chance.

‘But at first, we found he wanted to be on the ball too much.

‘He was quick and could get in behind but would take the ball to deep and then run into traffic when surrounded by three or four men.

‘But Ronan always wanted to get better.’

While Curtis was always regarded as one of the hottest prospects in Donegal, Boyle felt he yet again flexed his muscle to the rest of the nation in the All-Ireland Cup.

‘When we got to the last four of the All-Ireland Cup, he stood out as one of the best players in the country,’ added Boyle.

‘At that stage, he hadn’t been recognised beforehand.

‘When I watched him against players from provincial areas such as Dublin and Cork, I knew he could step up.

‘At 16, he was still standing out in our senior team as a great prospect, before joining Derry City’s academy a year later.

‘It seemed to snowball from there and he got his chance.

‘He just loves football and would play five, six, seven nights a week if he could.

‘We’re delighted to see him doing so well as a club and as a person – we’re really happy to have helped him on the pathway.

‘It’s not surprising how well he is doing at Pompey when I look back on it.

‘When you go up the levels, you need to be athletic and that’s what Ronan has.’