k solid Naughton is ready for the Crokes examination

He’s been one of the most consistent goalkeepers in Mayo for the past number of years and if you’ve ever been to a Castlebar Mitchels game any time in the past decade you’re sure to have heard him roaring instructions at his defence.

Ciaran Naughton has been the bedrock of the Castlebar Mitchels team for a long time now and the custodian is champing at the bit or his newly enforced gumshield for tomorrow’s All Ireland Senior Football Championship semi-final against Doctor Crokes from Kerry.

With all the interest in the introduction of the black card since the start of January, it’s another new rule that has been taking the Castlebar goalkeeper’s interest. “It was a bit of a learning curve at the start a few quirks to get used to, gumshields as well are in now, which can be a bit of a pain for the more vocal on the team! I may have developed a bit of a lisp, some people might think if they hear me shouting on Saturday. But the rules are the same for every team, you just get used to them and move on.”

Not that the gumshield will stop Naughton getting his message across to those in front of him tomorrow afternoon. “I’d be vociferous enough all right, but there’s only so much shouting you can do telling them to keep a hand on the Gooch, you know. It’s going to be testing, they’ve a very good six forward unit, not just one man. A lot of experience playing inter-county football and as a club in this competition in the last couple of years.”

While Mitchels are within an hour of a day out in the All Ireland final on St Patrick’s Day, it’s been a long road to this juncture, one that has had plenty of downs along the way. But none of them ever dulled Naughton’s love for the game or his club. “There was plenty years that it was tough going, I don’t think I ever considered packing it all in. Even when you think about the time we got relegated back down to intermediate, and that was a bad time. But over the last few years we’ve got a team together and we’ve been going now since then. We’ve been setting goals and trying to get there every year.”

The main goal last year was to finally win the county title after a number of disappointments in recent times, and when asked were they relieved to finally get that monkey off their backs Naughton agreed. “I’d agree, it was an unbelievable relief for every one to get over the line. We weren’t spectacular in the final by any means, but we won the match and the general consensus after was elation and relief that we finally had done it and the monkey was off our back.”

Just another game

Tomorrow will see Mitchels go into the game as 5/2 underdogs against the 2/5 favourites from Munster. But as Naughton admits Dr Crokes have been a lot longer trying to win this particular competition than his own side. “They’ve been knocking on the door of this competition for a good few years. Their main advantage is their experience in the latter stages of this championships. We’ve been concentrating on trying to win county titles over the last few years and they’ve been looking at trying to win Munster and All Ireland titles. I’d say we’d still be underdogs, but whether we are or not doesn’t mean anything to us. I’m not being cliched, but you take every match as it comes and that’s the way it is, we won’t do anything different.”.”

Since winning the Connacht title against St Brigid’s, it’s been a long lay off for Castlebar and Naughton is a fan of the new proposal to finish the club championship inside the calendar year. “I’d have preferred to keep going, it was a new situation for us. From the end of September we were playing every week or fortnight and then it was all stop. You knew what you were doing you were playing, you win Connacht and it’s what do you do now. You don’t know do you lay up for a few weeks take a break or keep going at it. It’s nice to maybe just have the two weeks between the games.”

While he’s been recognised as one of the best between the sticks in the county for a long time, inter-county football has never been something that has come calling for Naughton, but he’s still willing to take a call if it comes.

“I’m not disappointed really. If I was good enough for county level, I’d have been there a couple of years ago, I’d say. Mayo, in fairness, have no problem with strong keepers, Robbie [Hennelly] has been class the last year, David Clarke is as solid as you’ll get, and you’ve the likes of Brendan Walsh there too. But I’d have no problem taking a call if it came, but I can’t see it happening at this stage now really.”

Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s been a momentous season for Naughton and his team. They claimed the county and provincial title for the first time since 1993, the same season Castlebar Mitchels made it to the All Ireland final only to get turned over by Cork’s Nemo Rangers. Come full time tomorrow afternoon, Naughton will be hoping that he has another big date to look forward to in a months time.

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