Shane McNaughton – Off the Ball and Off Broadway

According to his acting biography, Shane McNaughton is a Stage and Screen Actor from Ireland. Shane spent three years working on his craft in New York City where he studied at the prestigious Stella Adler Studio of Acting, and Maggie Flanigan Studio. He has trained under Elizabeth Shepard, Anthony Grasso and Robert Russell. Shane is trained in Mixed Martial Arts and is a qualified counsellor. In Cushendall though, he is simply Shane, his da is Sambo, and he hurled for Ruairi Óg and Antrim. When he’s home you’ll see him in the Lurig bar, having the banter with the locals. 

 

It’s January 2019, as his Cushendall club mates go about their preparations for their Club semi final against Galway’s St Thomas, Shane is starring as the eponymous Danny in Origin Theatre Company’s production of Derek Murphy’s play, Inside Danny’s Box which is running off Broadway in New York. It’s a good break for the Cushendall man ahead of other work pencilled in for 2019.  Inevitably the talk turns to acting, hurling, life spent in Cushendall in the Glens of Antrim and acting in New York.

 

Cushendall

I went to the school up at the top of the road here St Mary’s, myself and Neil McManus were in the same class. That’s where we were introduced to hurling from a very young age. All the teachers were involved and hurling in the Ruairi Óg club, Cushendall is a very small tight knit community so a lot of our teachers would have been managing us. With me da we went to all the Antrim hurling games when we were young, it was just the environment we were brought up in. It’s very hard not to get a hurl in your hand from an early age in Cushendall.

 

My earliest memory is probably going to those Antrim games with my dad in the early 90s, with our club chairman’s mother. Playing Connect 4 in the back seat of the car. Going to All Ireland hurling matches with my mum.

 

My first hurling memory – I remember running around when the team were doing their warm ups and John Crossey the manager telling me to dip my chips in the water, I’ve no idea why! But it stuck in my head. I still don’t know what he meant.

 

Here in Cushendall there is a boat club and a golf club but at school we were all playing hurling, and funny enough the ones that didn’t play hurling seem to all have left Cushendall. It would be very hard to live in Cushendall I think if you weren’t involved in the hurling club in some shape or form.

 

Me and Neil grew up together. We were best friends and having someone like Neil was brilliant for me. Having someone challenging you and compete with. Every night of the week we were down at the Curfew Tower in the village, you wouldn’t have the Hurl and ball out of your hand.

 

Striking against the wall, before school, during school and then after-school, away you go again. We lived here on this side of the hurling pitch and Neil lived on the other side of the hurling pitch so we’d meet naturally enough at the hurling pitch.

 

Graffin is the same age as us too but he came to hurling a bit later. We actually had to persuade Graffin to play hurling. He was playing in a school blitz and didn’t really want to play. His mother and father weren’t really in to hurling at the time, so we had to force him into playing hurling. I’m very thankful we did now.

 

Whenever we started hurling there was the Clare way in coaching. Ground striking and ground games indoor that started with blitzes and stuff. I dunno what it was like before that we were very lucky with blitzes every weekend. I remember I cried because it was cancelled one Saturday.

 

Danny Healy was the p7 teacher. He lived across the road. He would have taken us to blitzes. But my da took me, Neil, Graffin and Paddy McGill from we were under 10 to under 12s. Then the whole way through Antrim development squads up to senior.

 

That’s what was brilliant about us winning this year. It was a good while since we had good quality minors coming through. But that’s so important, It gives the children something to look up to just past the winning of matches, bringing players through.

 

At that time Cushendall would have been winning championships. You aspired to that. Running behind them players. That’s where you wanted to be.

 

My dad would have driven us on, sitting down at the dinner table, hurling was all that you talked about. It was just that kind of house. He is so passionate about it. But having said that he would have never forced you to play. We were in an environment where everything was hurling hurling hurling.

 

When I finished here I went to the school down the road. Again to play hurling. I didn’t get the grades to go to Garron Tower. That didn’t bother me.

 

We weren’t that great at hurling our school team. Our teams would have girls playing and we were mixed. But it didn’t bother me either.  I was getting up and dandering down the road at 8:45. All the other lads had to get up an hour before me and get buses and whatnot to Garron Tower.

 

Hurling with Antrim

When we were coming up through the development squads had started. My da and Woody brought that team through all the way from under 14 right up through to senior. Myself and Neil, Paddy McGill and Graffin were going to that.

 

That’s the best involvement with hurling and was the most enjoyable. The professionalism was something else. It was something never seen before.

 

That minor team was the basis of the Antrim senior team for about 10 years. Us lads from Cushendall.  Neal McAuley, Hippy Donnelly, Eddie McCloskey.

 

Around about that time there were about 10 of us minors brought into the senior panel when the likes of Karl McKeegan were just about coming to the end of their career.

 

I suppose I was Sambo’s son, I just got on with it. I remember starting before Brian McFall in an All Ireland qualifier against Clare in Casement and I did come under a lot of scrutiny and I don’t think I had a good game at all but that was the only time I ever felt like that. What are you gonna do really? I didn’t care about that. I knew I was good enough and I just wanted to play hurling.

 

 

There was never anything said by any of the other players they were all 100%. It would have been different if I was a fringe player but I knew I wasn’t. I’m sure there were people who had an opinion but that’s none of my business

 

We had a great mindset because them development squads had informed a lot of what we did. We got beat in those two minor All Ireland quarter finals.  We got beat by a Joe Canning inspired Galway team by a point. They went on and won the All Ireland. It’s frustrating when you consider we were beating Limerick by five points with a few minutes to go  and they got two goals. Silly things like that cost us. We should have beaten Limerick.

 

We knew we were good enough because we had put the work in, going down every week to play a match against the likes of Cork, Tipp, Kilkenny, Clare. That built the mental strength so by the time we got to senior we believed in ourselves.

 

People talk about the gap between us and the southern hurlers. I think they do the basics very well and a lot quicker. And they’re playing good teams every week. And they’re more competitive.  I know that’s the copout thing, but it is hard for the players and the management with the money and travel that’s involved to be taking minor teams and trying to take them down there every week to get those sorts of competitive games. It’s a serious time commitment at that age.

 

We were successful because we were competitive. We didn’t win anything. But our minor teams brought on a lot of players that formed senior teams.  And that’s the measure of success. I think in Cushendall once we had a minor team that went unbeaten the entire year. But only one player came through to the club senior team. You could call them successful because they won a lot. The point of a minor team is to bring players through.

 

We were all playing for the club senior team when we were about 16 which is a very quick progression, Neil made his debut a year earlier when he was 15 over in Ballycastle in championship as a sub.

The Acting Bug and Working With Young Offenders

From a young age I knew I was interested in acting and drama.  I applied to drama school when I was leaving school down the road there. I had the New York Film school application all filled but it cost too much. You just couldn’t live and make money there at a young age. I had done a few plays in the golf club with the Lurig Drama Club.

 

Growing up I loved that film The Natural with Robert Redford and Cool Hand Luke. The night before a hurling game we would watch a movie. The likes of The Natural or Remember the Titans, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams. My Da would have put on the westerns, so we sat and watched them and I loved it. There’s none on now as they probably don’t sell well. But I thought they were great.

 

A few years ago then I went to New York to Study at the Stella Adler School. I suppose all those schools are the basis of the method they talk about. It took in everything from improvisation to scene study. It gave you a good grounding and all the basics that you work from and how to find your own technique.  What works for you and what doesn’t work for you. All my jobs I was used to working with people, I was always interested in why people do the things they do. I think that is what drew me to acting, the study of people in-depth and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Stella Adler was a big step for me. I was 26/27 and I was working in the prison in Hydebank mentoring young people trying to help rehabilitate them back into the community. I’d always wanted to work with young offenders and help them, my sister’s a social worker.

 

So I was a full time mentor listening and seeing how you could help and keep them out of jail. It was a good job. I was living in Belfast. I had a car.  A girlfriend. I loved it. But then I applied for Stella Adler and got in. So I dropped it all and went to New York. That was a tough decision leaving everything you knew and the safety of it all.

Hydebank was hard at the beginning because those young men and women. . .  their life is very different from mine. Sometimes you’re wondering if you are actually able to help them.  But I had a great boss and team there.

 

I see a few of the young people occasionally and it’s great seeing where they are now versus where they were before. While I was there I was in classes in the Crescent Arts Theatre in Belfast Monday and Wednesday. I was acting in my first proper play.  We were training for an all Ireland semi-final. And I was working in the prison. Trying to balance things up is hard enough. I was in Belfast coming down home for training.

 

The Part Hurling Plays

My attitude is that you have to be specific with your choices.  You can work on each skills area differently and it is is quite specific. In acting it’s a bit different. It’s about stripping away your ego and finding a truer version of yourself. Before you can present the true version of someone else. Finding that balance and what works for you is important.  And being open to failure, and there is a lot of failure!. That’s the thing I have embraced.

 

Hurling is invaluable there. We were told that from an early age in the changing rooms that it’s acceptable to fail and good coaches make children understand that it’s okay to fail and that it’s ok to let them fail. That can have a massive impact on you later in life. I learned a lot through hurling.

 

I was taught at 12 years of age in the dressing room how to be a man. What sacrifice meant and work ethic and the value of working. You have to work hard to perfect what you’re doing

 

I was always told by my dad to look in the mirror before you look at the window. So I always took the point of view that if I thought there was a problem, what was my role in the problem? And how could I fix it? I was self-critical because of a desire to improve and succeed.

 

The important ingredient is the thousands of families that make up the GAA. Time is the most precious thing we have. And the people in the GAA give it up for free in an age where greed and money is often King.

 

The late 2000s and on into the 2010s, they were a great time for senior hurling with Antrim. The minor team had come through. We played Dublin in Croke Park and beat them. We went and played Cork in an all Ireland quarter-final in front of a large crowd in Croke Park, a brilliant experience.

A Different Role

It was around that time that I felt I was going down a particular road where there was no creative freedom really in hurling. It got to the point where I decided I wanted to do something else. For so many years I had to put the acting bug to one side and focused on hurling, but it got to the stage where I wasn’t happy, I was 26 or 27 and I decided I want to do something else now.

 

It was a hard decision because all my best friends played hurling. They still do. I didn’t run in the acting circles. So you were going from one and then back to the start of the other. The same as if you were going back to under 10s, starting all over again.

 

For a while I worked with Down syndrome men, I worked in a children’s home an elderly persons’ home. At that stage of life a lot of my friends were getting married, buying houses, having kids. They had good jobs. Had life sorted and there I was, kind of starting this new life where everything was uncertain. Acting’s a profession where it’s very hard to get a job. It was a hectic enough oul time. But it was exciting too because I knew that I was going after something important to me and something I was passionate about.

 

There were times when I wondered why did I ever do this? When you’re sitting in New York eating one dollar pizzas. I remember one time phoning Neil and he was getting ready for a championship match. I was going on to an acting class to play a dinosaur. At the age of 27 or 28 I was running around a class as a dinosaur. A lot of people struggle to find something to fill that void after they’ve stopped playing hurling so I suppose I’m lucky in that I have something that I love doing in acting.

 

The locals here think I’m a lunatic, they say what are you at? You should still be playing hurling. If I’m down in Lurig (Bar) there will be plenty of banter. They’ll be saying you should be getting ready for this all Ireland semi-final in February instead of that acting carry on.  But it’s all good craic.

 

Down the years I didn’t have that many different managers with Antrim. Jerry Wallace and Kevin Ryan had an impact I had no other managers other than Woody and my Da really, but Kevin Ryan and Jerry Wallace had a good impact.

 

They weren’t telling you anything you didn’t know but they just said it with a different accent. Any men who were prepared to drive for seven hours or so for training, you had to respect that and appreciate what they did and if you’re not going to get committed for somebody who has made that commitment to help you then you’re not going to get committed for somebody else. 

Wee John

John McKillop. Where do you start with that man? He is the epitome of Cushendall. He’s been at every championship.  14 Championships if you go down to the bar and look at the photographs John is in every single photograph. I’d be very close with John, my auntie Maureen and Fergus they look after John.

John is just a very special person to be around. You see how much hurling means to him, how special it is to him and how much enjoyment he gets from it. And how much happiness he brings to other people.

 

He teaches you how to live. How to live and appreciate the wee small things. And he makes the best of everything he has. The cards that John has been dealt maybe haven’t been too kind to him but he’s interacted with the people around him. But look at the impact he has on us and our families, and the whole community and further afield.

 

There’s no better accolade in life. John probably has no idea of the impact he has on other people, but you see him over at the hurling pitch, the happiness it brings him and you just cannot help but smile when you meet him. 

 

He’s so ingrained in the club, one of the lads, he’s a gem. The time the lads have for him and the banter. The respect he gets from other clubs and referees. You see him out when Paddy Burke’s shaking hands with referees. There’s Wee John too shaking hands. And how could you not have respect for him. I see him sometimes referred to as a mascot, that annoys me, he’s not a mascot. He’s the heart beat of our hurling club.

Out of the Comfort Zone

I lived in New York on and off for three or four years, I love the place. I love the energy. If you’re going to live in a city you might as well live in New York.

 

You’re forced to get out of your comfort zone and hustle.

 

Living like the tortured artist is a romantic idea and I did that for a while. But it doesn’t need to be like that. Paying rent. Paying school are $1100 each. So you were working construction. Working in the bar at night. There were times I’d get in at 4 o’clock in the morning from work and get up again to go to acting school in the morning.

 

I wanted to do that. I knew the sacrifice would pay off. It’s like that running at the hurling pitch doing laps. It mightn’t specifically help you in a match but you know ‘I’ve done it’.  You know when you go out and mark your man on Sunday that you have done more than him.  That’s were I would get my confidence from.  Knowing the work has been put in and its just you and me for the next hour.

 

At the beginning I did feel uncomfortable in acting. I suppose I felt I didn’t fit in the environment. But that’s a good thing too. A lot of the people wouldn’t have the same experience that I have of sitting in the changing room with your dad standing there with the eyes wide screaming at you. 

The experiences in prison. They’re all experiences to draw upon. Most of my learnings came from the hurling pitch.

 

It’s like learning lines. How do I learn lines? With great fucking difficulty! I force myself so I sit down and pick a piece maybe out if the newspaper and learn that off.  It was one thing I wasn’t good at learning my lines so I sat down and made a point of learning things off. I know from hurling it takes hard work, repetition and concentration. I would always like to learn with somebody else so I will torture Christy or my sister or my ma or da to read lines with me.

 

I just want to be working with better writers and better directors so I can learn and grow. That inspires me. I will look for something that is challenging. I take risks to see how I can fail. I learned that a lot of good has come from things that I thought were bad for me. I learnt that for example in the children’s home looking at the young people there who feared certain things but when they confronted them, great things happened for them.

 

One of the best things I recently experienced was working with Sam Mendes and Jez Butterworth reading for people who were auditioning. That was a good learning for me because now I know, it’s often completely out of my control when I go to an audition and you can only give what you can give.  You can blame yourself and go fuck it I’m never getting the part, I’m shite, but you might realise that they were looking for something different.  You go in with whatever you have to offer and leave. 

All Ireland Campaign 2016

Our last All Ireland run, the way we won games coming from behind we showed great character. And because of every game we won, we definitely thought we could win an all Ireland. We had good hurling ability, we had been through the wars. That builds character in people and that was always the aim. When you’re running around a hurling pitch when you are 12 and pretending you are playing in an all Ireland final even then, that fuels the fire and belief

 

When we went into Croke Park I had total belief. With coming from behind in every game and I have been to every other semi-final we had ever been through. Going there I was confident that we were good enough and we could compete. Then after it was over I was devastated.

 

I was disappointed with how we played as a team and I know I played okay and I scored a few points but my man scored three points as well so. At that time I knew that I was going away to New York and that it was quite possibly my last game and it was weird because normally I would’ve been a bit nervous but I remember everything really clearly that day

 

I remember smiling and being really relaxed in the changing room before. There’s a lot of talk about being in the moment or whatever but I was really looking forward to it.

 

I left it all on the pitch on the day. But I think as a team we didn’t play as well as we could’ve done. I knew it was my last day and Christy playing too meant a lot to me as well. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty watching them training. I think briefly I should be playing. But I have chosen that. I’m not down and out about it because it was my choice.

 

Hurling is like an education. It teaches you what a work ethic will do. What community means. People get emotional. That’s why I loved my da and Woody  as managers, they were so passionate.

 

Cushendall taught me about passion and work ethic. This is me for life. My da says maybe give it everything for five years. I laughed. I’m going to do this til I get paid to do it consistently. If I can offer anything it’s because of those experiences growing up playing hurling and be surrounded my strong characters. I learned that in Cushendall changing room at 12 years of age.  I am forever grateful to those people.

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