Former Antrim hurler Shane McNaughton makes it to Broadway
‘Shane McNaughton was the best the Ruairi Ogs had to offer.
Wearing his familiar green helmet, everything about McNaughton’s performance was magnificent.
He was a glowing parable for never quitting.
Although this final was over as a contest long before the final whistle, McNaughton played with an effervescence you normally don’t see among the defeated.
His stick work was immaculate, buying him precious time and space.
He hit four brilliant points, the best of which came in the 53rd minute.
Twisting one way then the other, his movement seemed to defy the laws of geometry before splitting Na Piarsaigh’s posts.
The only injustice of the day was that Cushendall’s number eight had finished on the losing team.’
– 2016 All-Ireland Club SHC final report in The Irish News
THE 2016 All-Ireland Senior Club hurling final at Croke Park was the last meaningful game of hurling Shane McNaughton played.
His preparations for the daunting clash with Limerick and Munster champions Na Piarsaigh were arguably the worst he ever had. He hardly trained because of a hip injury.
That hip became the bane of his life.
He’d be bouncing and feeling great one minute; a training session later, he’d be in pure agony, barely able to walk.
Surgery gave him some respite. But only respite.
Even though it was game over for the Cushendall hurlers long before half-time, Shane McNaughton played the shirt off his back.
He played in a wondrous manner that was completely oblivious to the Croke Park scoreboard.
At the end, he crouched alone on the field, probably knowing that it was his last big game he’d play for his club.
There is something pure, something virtuous to be found in a sportsperson who knows their team will not win and yet they still produce their very best.
Terence McNaughton, Shane’s father, is a wise old sage.
“Every kid that I’ve coached I have told them: ‘The scoreboard will not determine whether you’re successful or not. The scoreboard just determines if your team won or lost,” he says.
“There are days when you won by 10 points and you were useless and there were days when you lost by 20 points and you were outstanding. And you can walk off the field, saying: ‘I was the best I could have been.’
That St Patrick’s Day, Cushendall lost by 11 points and Shane McNaughton was the best he could have been.
It is on those tough days you see a person’s true character. Shane never quit.
A week before playing in the All-Ireland final, I met him in a local coffee shop in Belfast.
He’d decided to give acting a go. He remembers his first audition.
It was in Queen’s University for a stage play called ‘Say You’ll Remember Me’.
He was auditioning for the role of James Wentworth, an Oxford student, the love interest, taken from Gareth Russell’s book.
Shane remembers pressing the elevator button for floor three.
As he pressed the button, he felt running out of the building and back to the safe haven of the Glens.
He could have given up on his dream right there. Nobody would have to know that he didn’t actually go through with the audition.
“I walked away and came back to the lift,” he recalled. “It was at that point your ego takes over and you’re thinking: ‘I hope nobody sees me here.’
“You’re just very vulnerable. I didn’t know what to expect at all. They gave me a scene to run through. The director was leaning back and there were two other people.
“There were three more auditions for it and I was just as nervous for each of them. You’re living completely outside of your comfort zone. But there’s a great feeling about that. It lets you know you’re alive, that you’re scared. I like living that way - good things can happen.”
On his first night at The Mac, James Wentworth felt like running home again, as far away as possible from the stage with the ‘live’ audience.
But he didn’t. He stayed.
He walked onto the stage and played his part. Petrified.
Three years have passed and a lot has happened: a lot of rejection letters but enough roles to sustain him.
He secured a place in Stella Adler Studio, one of New York’s most prestigious acting colleges.
He’s slept on many floors in the Big Apple. Reading. Watching. Listening. Learning. A sponge for information.
He’s done a million auditions at this stage.
After an interminable wait, his green card finally came through last month and Shane felt free as a bird.
“Some lad in America decided that I have ‘extraordinary ability’ and gave me a green card,” he wrote on Twitter.
As 2019 warms up, Shane McNaughton has made it to Broadway.
Yes. It’s worth reading again: Shane McNaughton on Broadway, at the intimate Cell Theatre, between 8th and 9th Avenue, playing the main character in ‘Inside’s Danny’s Box’ – a play by Derek Murphy.
The play opened on January 14 and runs to January 27.
It’s a “God-fearing comedy set in Ireland. It’s about love, betrayal, about demented fathers and missing mothers. Find out what’s inside Danny’s box, but for the love of God tell no-one.”
Turning up back stage with the rest of the cast to perform for a fortnight doesn’t mean Shane has ‘made it’.
When do we ever really ‘make it’?
Who knows, Shane McNaughton could be back working in the Lurig Bar on Cushendall’s main street this time next year.
His younger brother Christy might give him a few weekend shifts collecting glasses and changing kegs.
But, wherever he is in 12 months time, whatever he is doing misses the point of Shane McNaughton’s story.
His achievement is not about how many plays he acts in.
His achievement is not measured in successful auditions.
His achievement – the greatest kind of achievement - is that he dared to dream in the first place. That he never walked away from that elevator in Queen’s.
Just like in the 2016 All-Ireland Club final at Croke Park, when the going got tough, he never quit.
In a Q&A with The Irish News, he was asked how he viewed his own mortality.
With typical clarity, he said: “I try to live every day in the present. We are here and we all have an opportunity to put our mark on the world, whether that is being a parent, a leader of a country or an actor – no job is more important than the other. It’s how I live that is more important than how long I live for.”
When young people with big dreams and energy to burn read his story, they will be inspired by him and the path he took.
Shane’s parents Ursula and Terence fly out to New York next week to watch Inside Danny’s Box.
“I’m going out to New York to see my son on a stage which is something I never imagined I’d be doing,” said Terence.
For a parent, for a son, it doesn't get any better than that...