From facing Diarmuid Connolly in a Championship final to squaring up to former Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka’s fledgling professional soccer league - welcome to 12 months in the life of Dean Curran.
Trincomalee is a port city in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, roughly 147 miles north-east of Colombo, one of the country’s two capitals. The city is home to the famous Koneswaram Temple and other historical monuments such as the Bhadrakali Amman Temple.
Since June, it’s also been home to 23-years-old Rossnagalliagh native, Curran.
Rewind 12 months, August 26th 2018, to be precise and the former Derry U21 county player can only look on in admiration as Dublin superstar Connolly reels off 0-12 for Donegal Boston to defeat Curran’s Wolfe Tones in the Boston Senior Championship final.
“I really enjoyed my time in America. Diarmuid Connolly only showed up for the final but then scored 12 points against us, it was crazy but I had a brilliant time.”
However, if going from Doire Dolmcille to Diarmuid Connolly seems a jump, Curran’s next adventure was positively surreal.
Having shown plenty of potential during spells with Oxford United, Rosemount and Redcastle F.C., Curran took the decision to step away from Gaelic Games in order to concentrate on a soccer career he is determined to test his limits in.
What he didn’t expect though, was to take his first step in the ‘professional’ game almost 10,000 miles from home in a country still emerging from a bloody 26-year-civil war.
Yet a chance encounter with his friend and former coach soon after returning from his GAA adventure in the US presented an opportunity Curran felt was too good to turn down at a new club owned by world-famous cricketer, Mahela Jayawardena.
“I wasn’t long back in Derry when the chance came up,” explains Dean, “Joe Gray, who I know through GAA and soccer, said a contact of his had been looking for an overseas player to play in a tournament called the North East Premier League.”
A whirlwind few weeks ended with Curran agreeing to become one of two overseas signings for the Trinco Titans in a new tournament established only two years ago to try and unify one of the areas worst affected by civil war.
This year’s Easter Sunday bombings of three churches and three hotels in Colombo were a reminder of how volatile the country’s recent past had been but Curran was determined to travel and sample the sporting life in the country.
“I was curious but I did have some reservations, “With the bombings at Easter, it was a bit dodgy as to whether I’d go or not but I loved the country straight away. The weather is superb and the people are fantastic.
“We have two overseas players on the team, myself and a Londoner called Seth Burkett. A maximum of four foreign players are permitted on any team but we have just the two. The rest of the teams have four but most foreign players would be Nigerian or from other African countries.”
With the start of the tournament delayed until July, Dean had plenty of time to acclimatise but the intensity of the competition, on and off the pitch, still came as a shock.
“There is a lot of aggression in the football and as a foreign player, I tend to be targeted with some pretty bad fouls. You can hear some of the other teams yelling at each other to stop me.
“Our home crowd can be hostile as well. After losing one of the games we had to lock ourselves in the changing room to stop an angry crowd of supporters from getting to us.
“They were booing and throwing things at the windows. It was crazy.
“I’ve come up against lots of players from the Sri Lankan national team, as well as former Tamil Tigers instructors. The civil war is only over about 10 years or so and most of it took place in the north east where we’re based and there are plenty of reminders.
“Even in the league you see signs. The team we are facing next has a former Tamil Tiger commander who lost an arm in the conflict which sounds crazy but the people are great, really friendly and would do anything for you.”
The midfielder, who was joined in Sri Lanka by girlfriend, Megan, two weeks ago, has also had to cope with the weight of expectation placed on him as a foreign player but despite some excellent individual performances which have brought Curran one goal and two assists, the Titans are unlikely to qualify from their group.
“The standard isn’t too bad. Some of the better teams would be around the level of Intermediate football back home, maybe a bit higher. There are some decent players but the level is not the same as professional football back home.
“When the competition was set up, all the local players taking part quit their jobs to train full-time. It was the same with almost every team. It’s great but with me and Seth - who plays centre-half - sometimes people expect us to win games on our own, they think you have a magic wand with you or something.
“The language barrier has easily been the hardest thing for me and I’ll admit I didn’t even consider it before I came out. I was just happy to have an opportunity to come out and see Sri Lanka which hasn’t disappointed.
“Since the games started, there has been a match every three days so you don’t have time for much training in between games. In between it is beach, get food, recover.
“My girlfriend, Megan, landed almost two weeks ago. Had she not come over I don’t think I would have done much travelling because, as a team, we haven’t travelled much but since Megan arrived we have seen Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Kandy. It is a special place.”
Curran’s final group game for the Titans takes place on September 3rd and even if, as expected they failed to make still hopes to be back in action next week having agreed to sign with Inishowen outfit Aileach F.C. this season.
“Our last group game with the Titans is next week and if we don’t make it, I’m looking to get back to start with Aileach as soon as possible.
“This has been not only an unbelievable experience but also a serious pre-season. I want to try and push myself to see how far I can go, I wouldn’t be stopping the GAA otherwise.
“I want to take a year or two and fully concentrate on football to see how it goes. I don’t regret coming to Sri Lanka at all but I’m excited now to get back now and really test myself back home.”