December 04, 1992
Flying Martin Naughton
Thanks for the memories
The Galway star's enforced decision to call it a day will be regretted by hurling purists the world over
Martin Naughton's burning desire to rejoin the country's hurling elite was matched only by the burning sensation which at varying intervals would ricochet off his damaged knee before commuting through every nerve in his body.
Naughton's battle of the senses raged on like internecine warfare in famine-torn Somalia for over three years before matter silenced mind in a moment of awfulness that every athlete dreads. The moment when the body claws of the white handkerchief, throws the towel in and climbs pout of its boots for good. A few weeks ago, the Turloughmore Terrier, who so often put the umph into Galway hurling, called it a day, or rather his body did.
As brave now in looking ahead to a barren sporting horizon as he was when hurtling down the left wing of some of the biggest hurling stages around, the 28 year old oil company marketing department employee has surprisingly come to terms pretty quick with being known as a has-been of enormous repute. Naughton, the former star hurler, build to excite and delight, talks about the circumstances of his injury and the background to his decision to retire from the game like a boxer would talk about a fight in which he was forced to take successive standing eighth counts, before being called aside by the referee.
Training for the All-Ireland semi final of '89, the Galway half forward fell awkwardly after retrieving the ball from under the clouds. Thereafter, his career manoeuvred its way onward under an ever increasing, darkening cloud once it was discovered that he had torn a cruciate ligament in his knee. An operation in the following October was wholly successful and by the time Mayo 1990 came around, he was fit enough to train with Turloughmore and set himself up for a county recall. A place against Offaly in his customary wing forward position was secured incredibly three months later and while Galway's eventual defeat to Cork in the championship decider was a cruel blow mentally, Naughton's body called for more of the same action. The 90/91 league and championship season would duly answer the call and no ill-effects were reported. It seemed that a re-visit to the glory years of 87/88 were just around the corner for the attacker with the dash of a spit fire and the accuracy of an exocet missile. Not so, however.
A fairly innocuous challenge match against Limerick last February formed the backdrop for Naughton's ultimate nightmare scenario. A freak accident would leave his knee-cap swimming around his leg like a buoy in Galway Bay. Thereafter, competitive hurling would be confined to club fare with Turloughmore until the end of the domestic championship season. That point has since come and gone. Naughton's brilliance on the hurling field will be seen no more.
A one-time, part-time footballer at underage level with Claregalway, the Turloughmore native's all too brief tenure on the Galway best fifteen saw him play with a type of buzz and bounce over a five year period which concocted the perfect panacea for Galway gaels trying to come to terms with the departure of 'erstwhile attacking wizards like PJ Molloy and Bernie Forde. A long striding winger with the big match temperament to match, Naughton was never much less than brilliant in the Galway colours from 86 until 91. His enforced decision to bring down the shutters on a career in full flight will be regretted by hurling purists the world over.
Being one hundred per cent fit was always a vital facet of Martin Naughton's game. It was an essential ingredient for him really, a necessary and vital element of his armoury. Attacking defences at speed with the sliothar perched, glue like on the end of his hurl, was Martin Naughton's trademark. A haunting memory for the best backs that the eighties produced and poetry in motion for watching crowds. It was in the company of a hurler in the same mould that a young Martin Naughton first caught the eye of Galway's discerning hurling fans. Hurling at the best of times is a quicksilver game but at underage level out west, blink at your peril. It was in this environment that Eanna Ryan and young Naughton blossomed in the course of studying at Presentation College, Athenry, at the beginning of season 81/82. A county school's medal made the game even more appetising for both flying wingers.
As a graduate years earlier of Cregmore National School, Martin Naughton had been given an early taste of defeat. Linking up with his pals in the Turloughmore-Claregalway grand community games alliance, defeat in the All-Ireland only served to sharpen and intensify his hunger for the winning ways, however. Under the tutelage of such as local mentor Patrick Egan, innate skills at first raw and unrefined were gradually honed to a fine degree. A year after tasting schools success, he featured at left corner forward on the Turloughmore minor side that swept all opposition aside in Galway's championship fare.
Totally committed to hurling in a largely football free climate, Martin Naughton became one of several high profile underage stars from the Claregalway parish. The emergence of players such as Pat Burke, John Higgins and Padraig Burke also helped the area's reputation as a burgeoning hurling power no end. It wasn't long before the inevitable call up to county under 21 ranks arrived and when it did, it teamed the Turloughmore ace up with none other than Cyril Farrell, a mentor who was to get the very best out of the pacey and effervescent hurling prodigy for five marvellously successful seasons.
Under 21 county hurling proved to be a bitter-sweet experience though, for the then engineering manufacturing employee. In fact, 1985 was to prove a mixed bag of a season all round for him. Defeat against Tipperary in the All-Ireland Under 21 semi final was added to on the home front when Sarsfields under 21s, led by the Cooneys and Michael McGrath, outgunned the Turloughmore troupe in the county decider. History was to be made on the rebound, however. Victory in the 85 Galway senior championship, the club's first such victory for twenty odd years, was followed up by a blaze of glory that ended with Turloughmore's Frank Burke, Gerry Holland, Joe Greaney, Gerry Burke and the irrepressible Naughton helping themselves to Connacht club glory.
Never one to have had a liking for head protection, Martin Naughton was one of those type of players whose side-stepping movements, change of pace and running off the ball made them instantly recognisable even if, as in Martin's case, the wearing of a helmet became an afterthought in latter days. Ironically, in all his days as an artist, with hurl in hand, on the playing fields of such as Croke Park, Kiltormer and Kilkenny. Nonie Healy's husband never came close to suffering an injury that seriously threatened to interrupt his playing career until, of course, that fateful day when a training spin with his Galway colleague became a ticket to disaster.
A first cousin of noted footballer Tom Naughton, the star of the clan in hurling terms, made his debut for Turloughmore seniors at the unusually late age of twenty, but within three years, he had an All-Ireland senior medal sitting on Mary Burke's (his mother) sideboard. Alongside messrs Joe Cooney and Michael McGrath, the then 23 year old half forward played no small part in Galway's victory over Kilkenny. Better was to follow, however.
In the 1988 All-Ireland semi final tie with Leinster champions Offaly, Naughton assumed nightmarish characteristics for the Faithful County ambassadors. Pitted against none other a hurler than Brendan Keeshan, the Turloughmore stalwart blitzed his way to hurling immortality by firing over 1-4 of his sides total. For that performance, Naughton was deservedly awarded the B&I Sportstar of the Month award for August.
The 1988 summer season was arguably Martin Naughton's best ever. In three championship matches that year, he recorded the amazing tally of 1-18, all from play. Delivering finely weighted passes to Cooney inside him or to Pat Malone running through from midfield was equally as much his hallmark as that of sharpshooter supreme. A Bank of Ireland All Star award that year followed the All-Ireland victory over Tipperary thus capping a marvellous and unrivalled season for the jet-propelled winger. For good measure, Oireachtas, National League and Railway Cup medals were bagged as well.
Martin Naughton's senior county career was, by any standards, short and sweet. He has always maintained that it was his enjoyment of the game that promoted him and that his love of hurling was a natural by-product of this enjoyment. In full stride, with head down and a strike of goal in the offing, there were few more majestic sights that Martin Naughton 'on his bike'. Thanks for the memories, Martin.
Taken from Hogan Stand magazine
4th December 1992
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