It is difficult to imagine the last nine months going any better for Portsmouth and Ireland striker, Ronan Curtis.
A move to the League One side, a first cap for the Republic of Ireland, 12 goals and 13 assists for his new club, the 2018 FAI U21 Player of the Year, a trip to Wembley on Sunday and one less finger (almost) than he had last year.
Well ok, admittedly that last part wasn’t in the script for Curtis.
“We had a game on the Tuesday,” began the 23-year old, speaking to Pundit Arena.
“We were meeting at the training ground for 8 o’clock so when I left the house in the morning the wind was really really bad and I came out and the door just slammed, the wind caught it and it slammed on my finger.
“It was quite serious. They needed seven stitches to stitch the whole finger back on, they managed to save it so I was lucky to have the full finger back again. They said four to six weeks for the bone to reheal because the it was crushed, it was in pieces.
“Then three to three and a half months until your nail grows back so it’s going to look like a normal finger just with a big scar on it.”
The first real roadblock on his recent fast lane to success, Curtis’ finger injury is healing up and he is expected to be fit enough to make his return to action for Portsmouth in Sunday’s Checkatrade Trophy final against Sunderland.
It would be due reward for the striker who has taken to life at Fratton Park like a duck to water since his summer move from Derry City, scoring and assisting like it’s going out of fashion for his new club.
Curtis’ freak injury though did cause him to miss Ireland’s opening Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia, a massive blow given his form at club level and the new boss’ apparent grá for the promising young striker.
“I was fuming to miss out on the Ireland games,” said Curtis, the hurt clear in his tone.
“I wanted to make an impression for the gaffer and the new staff coming through but it was just a silly mistake by me.
“He was nice enough, he was talking to me at the awards and he’s been to a couple of my club games and he said ‘go back to your club, we’ve got another two games in June and we’ll see what happens then.’
“Hopefully, if I play well Sunday and then keep my form up in the league you never know what’s around the corner.”
What’s around the corner, Curtis hopes, is a chance in June for him to solidify himself in the Irish starting XI. He has made two substitute appearances but is still yet to start for the Boys in Green.
When you consider that just five years ago he was playing for Donegal side, Swilly Rovers, in the Ulster Senior League and working as a painter and decorator, his rise to international level has been an incredibly quick one.
So quick in fact, that his first cap took even the confident Curtis by surprise.
“I can say it was a dream come through.
“As a young kid growing up I always watched my country play. I always wanted to play on that pitch and play for my country one day, I never thought it would have come around that quick but the stats don’t lie.
“I was performing well at my club and Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane gave me the chance to play so I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity and my first caps.”
Curtis grew up in Donegal, moving there when he was eight but surprisingly he has never shaken his London accent; the place of his birth.
With a mother from Derry and Grandparents from Cork, the striker has a rich history of Irishness in his family.
In a year that’s been dominated by the narrative of international allegiances, for Curtis the decision was always easy, outlining that, although Northern Ireland wanted him to represent them, his roots were always with the Republic.
“100% it was always Ireland. When I was at school, even before I played for Ireland because I only played for my country at U21 level, but when I was at school Northern Ireland wanted me to play for them, I went to school in Derry. I said ‘no, that’s not my roots, that’s not who I want to play for I want to play for my country,’ which was Ireland.
“My Grandad and my Granny are from Cork and my Mum and Dad lived down south at the time. They still do to be fair, but they’re always over here with me. The Republic of Ireland was always my first choice.”
In speaking to Curtis, the theme of family weaves through the conversation. It’s clear that his parents are a massive influence on, not only how he plays the game, but how he conducts himself outside of football also.
He credits them and the people in his circle as a huge reason why he has taken to life at Portsmouth and English football so well.
Although his parents were, and still are, hard on him, he understands how vital they have been in, as he puts it, “keeping him away from bad habits and bad people”.
“I was like ‘right, keep going now and don’t look back’ and I haven’t looked back,’ said Curtis when quizzed about the mechanics behind his incredible form.
“I’ve just kept going. I think that’s a credit not just to me but to the staff and to my family. They are hard on me. Mum and Dad are really hard on me, but if it wasn’t for them raising me the way I am I don’t know what I would be doing right now. It’s not just me who’s done it for myself it’s my family as well.
“I credit people in my circle the most. If it wasn’t for them pushing me in the right direction and keeping me away from bad habits and bad people then I don’t know what I would do. I’m lucky enough to have both of my parents around me to advise me and talk to me so it’s great. “
Curtis’ desire to succeed could be traced back to his unusual route to Derry City. The 23-year old was never an Irish underage international until the age of 20 and only signed for the Candystripes when he was 18.
Before that, he was playing for amateur side, Swilly Rovers, doing painting and decorating but always enjoying football, especially the camaraderie it brought with his six older brothers.
After impressing in the Foyle Cup, he found his way to Derry’s U19s before injury issues in the squad led to Peter Hutton giving him his first taste of senior League of Ireland football.
“I’ll never forget it, I started the game because of an injury and it was against Cork at home. We beat them 1-0 and I scored and that was it then. My confidence was sky high so I was like ‘right I can actually do this.’ I got a contract then with Kenny Shiels the next year. He was a lovely man, he gave me my chance I have to thank him as well.
“He gave lots of young players a chance and let us play. We did well for him I think we came third and got a European spot. It is a great league to be in and a lot more players are being looked at now in the League of Ireland.”
It’s been a whirlwind nine months for Curtis who now finds himself here, on the eve of a Wembley final as his club Portsmouth take on Sunderland in the Checkatrade trophy final on Sunday.
His sense of anticipation is palpable. “I’m trying to take it step by step but the closer it gets the more excited I am.”
It’s been a rapid rise for the 23-year old, as Wembley way awaits.