Photo: Curzon Ashton FC

He’s a man who will always be synonymous with Chester FC, but in this year of the ‘unprecedented’, the Blues’ record appearance holder Craig Mahon has had to get firmly reacquainted with the unfamiliar. The Irish winger joined Altrincham back in January as part of the deal that took John Johnston to Chester, going on to win the National League North play-offs at the beginning of August.

Last month, he was announced as a notable new addition at Curzon Ashton ahead of former Colne boss Steve Cunningham’s first season at the helm. In a year that would have taken quite some predicting, ‘Mahony’ is more than content with the footballing hand he has ultimately been dealt.

 

Firstly, what was the deciding factor in joining Curzon Ashton? Were you talking to any other clubs?

Yeah, there was a few other clubs from the same league, and a couple from the league below. It was just when I spoke to the gaffer, and his ideas, ambition and enthusiasm as well, it really shone through for me. It made my choice really easy, and Curzon, they’ve always been a great team to play against, it’s a great little stadium and I’ve always enjoyed playing there. So it was an easy decision in the end.

How are you currently feeling? Did the extended break before the play-off games with Alty help you at all?

During the lockdown, with the Alty squad, we were asked to do our own training if we could, because we weren’t allowed to train as a team. I kept myself ticking over, and then when we were allowed to go back and started getting tested for COVID, we were training three days a week, and then obviously with the play-off games, it was keeping me ticking over. So when the chance came to go and have a chat with Cunny, he asked me to play in a game against Oldham for them, and I was at a level where I was still pretty match-fit, sharp, and it was perfect for me to just go and show what I can do.

What about those months between the season suspension and Alty then returning to play? Besides the fitness, did you learn anything new, were there a few quizzes etc.?!

Oh I’m sick of Zoom calls! It was brilliant at the start, we were doing quizzes, bingo, everything, but I think everyone thought it was only gonna last a month or so. It was a tough one but I ended up being a gardener, doing everything in the house that we said we wanted to do, so I was a man of all trades during lockdown really!

Winning the play-offs with Alty, what kind of celebrations could you and did you have?

It was a strange one because getting promoted is obviously a fantastic achievement for myself and for the club, so to get that was amazing, but to have no fans in the stadium, it was just surreal. The excitement and the pride was there but you couldn’t express it as much as you would if there was fans there, and if my family had come over from Dublin and you could celebrate with them. It was very surreal, and it just shows that without fans, it’s just not the same. On the way home, we had a few celebration beers on the bus, and then when we got back, we celebrated as a little group ourselves. It was nice in that sense but it would have just been nice to show the appreciation to the fans and everybody that works at the club, and to my family for all their support. I’m sure all the other lads were in the same boat and they would have loved to have their families in the ground.

Leaving Alty after that, was there any possibility you might stay?

There was a slight possibility, they were looking at how it could work, and in the end, it didn’t work for either of us. Parky (manager Phil Parkinson) had a budget that he had to go off, he had his players that he’s worked with the last two or three seasons that got them to this point, so I could understand his loyalty towards them and stuff like that. Then in my head, I’ve got my other job doing coaching with Wigan Athletic, so I had that in the back of my head, thinking ‘am I able to give it 100 per cent?’ I think if you go into that league, you have to give everything; it’s like a League Three now, the teams are fantastic. So it was just one of those things, like a mutual consent thing. I’ve hit lucky by landing with Curzon Ashton, because it’s a fantastic club, and the players that the gaffer has been able to bring in so far have been brilliant; Paul Turnbull, Matty Waters, Max Harrop from Alty as well. (Steve Cunningham is) really putting a team together that definitely wants to challenge this year. I don’t think anybody at Curzon wants to turn up and just be there for the sake of it. We wanna make a name for ourselves, we wanna give the club the best chance possible and see if we can shock a few teams along the way.

Growing up, which team did you support, and which part of Dublin are you from?

I’m from a part of Dublin called Drimnagh. My dad growing up was a massive (Manchester) United fan, my mum and my dad, so I just followed suit. As I’ve grown up, I still support United but you just become a footballer when you play so often and you train every day. You just enjoy watching it and learning from other leagues and other managers, other players. United’s still my team but I just enjoy watching football now.

When I say the happiest time you’ve had in football, I’m sure it’s Chester, but what sort of time period felt the most enjoyable? Scoring the winner at Southend in the FA Cup (in November 2014) obviously stands out for moments.

Yeah, you’ve got the Southend game because my twin boys were born the day before and I travelled down on the day to play the match, so that was a fantastic moment. I travelled down, scored, and then went straight back to the hospital to see my wife and kids, so that was one of them moments. It’s strange because I loved my time at Chester, a fantastic club and they were brilliant to me and supported me throughout my good spells and bad spells, as you have with football. Then I look at my time at Alty, and although it was a short spell, getting that medal meant a lot to me because it was something I hadn’t got before. When I moved over from Dublin I always wanted to have something to show for it. I’ve played for my country when I was younger, then I got the most appearances at Chester, which is a fantastic achievement at a club like that, but to have that medal really gave me a lot of satisfaction and a lot of pride. Moving on to Curzon Ashton and the way the gaffer’s been with me there, it’s given me an even greater lease of life, because he speaks to me as if I’m a senior pro and he’s asking for opinions about players and about training, formations and how we’re doing. It’s a different side of the game and I’m really enjoying being one of the players the gaffer can talk to about things. It’s given me a really good insight into what happens behind the scenes. It’s another fantastic moment in my career and I’m very blessed to not only go to a club that wants me but one that appreciates my past experiences as well.

Has there been a most difficult spell?

I had a couple of months at Chester, I think it was about three years ago, I went through an injury spell for two months but we couldn’t work out what it was. I had inflammation of my pubic bone; I was getting pain in my groin, in my hips, so we were trying everything to sort of combat it. I was taking two Tramadol just to get through games because the pain was that bad. Because I didn’t know what the injury was, I didn’t know what to rest or do with it, so that was a tough moment. Then to be fair, the last half a season before I moved to Altrincham was tough, because I wasn’t even in the squad at Chester for a lot of the games. As a player, you just wanna play, and to not even be on the bench, it hurt a lot. I think more pride than anything, because I knew I still could do what I wanted to do and I had a lot of ability and potential to give Chester. It wasn’t to be but it was just a tough one to take because I’d been there that long. Football’s a wonderful but a cruel sport, and I’ve gone from not being in the squad and being down, to ending up getting promotion at the end of the season, so it shows you how quick it turns around and how keeping the right mindset can really benefit you.

You’ve worked with a good few managers, what sort of approach do you think gets the best from you?

I’ve always been the type of person where I need an arm around the shoulder, that’s just who I am. I don’t mind getting a rollocking every now and again, but if a manager’s telling me what I’m doing well and stuff like that, or values you in a different way, I seem to be able to get more out of myself. With Steve Cunningham now, he speaks to me after the game and talks to me about what I’ve done and asks my opinion on other things; it just makes you feel a bit more valued and it’s a lovely feeling. Even though I’m only 31, I’m one of the oldest at Curzon, and I’ve never really been in that position, so it’s nice to be that senior figure where you’re talking to lads and you’re trying to get lads up for matches, instead of you listening to other people doing that for you.

Even last season alone, you had the likes of Gary Stopforth, Jordan Hulme, Tony Thompson, but who are some standout examples of the many characters you’ve been around in the game?

Your Jordan Hulme, your Tony Thompson at Alty, they’re just brilliant lads. Those types of characters are exactly what you need around the dressing room. At Chester, we had a great bunch of lads that looked after each other. I can remember the year before, when we went down to Newquay, and we had like a four-day trip where we had a couple of games and a couple of training sessions, but it was like team bonding. I roomed with people like Gary Roberts, who’s…he’s one of a kind. A fantastic lad and he’s gone through so much in his career and his life. He’s a quality player as well. Then we had people like Gary Stopforth, who’s…I don’t think he’s on this planet, but he’s a fantastic guy to have around the dressing room. People like Danny Livesey and Simon Grand, who are like the figureheads of the dressing room and looked after the lads, Scotty Burton was the same. We had a really great group of lads and I think you need that, because you can win a lot more points from having that camaraderie. It can win you games or get you back into games just from knowing that the person you’re playing with is going to fight for you like you do for them. So, I think some of the dressing rooms, I’ve been very lucky to have. We had John Rooney and he was good fun when he was at Chester. He was a very down-to-earth guy; I know people always class him as Wayne Rooney’s brother but he never talked about him, never acted big time, he was just a normal lad that came to play football. Then you’ve got the gaffers, like Bern and Jonno (Chester’s Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson), who are characters in their own sense; they bring a lot to the table as well in the dressing room.

Any teammates in particular that you’ve felt a real understanding with on the pitch?

I think the season where we had a good FA Cup run, and we finished 12th (in the Conference), when Steve Burr was the manager. Jon Worsnop was in goal, we had people like Kieran Charnock, Gareth Roberts who was at Tranmere. (Roberts) was a left-back and I was left-wing, and because he was getting towards the end of his career, he used to say ‘you get the ball and do what you need to do, and I’ll defend for you.’ We just had this understanding with each other, which was brilliant. We had Craig Hobson and Tom Peers in our squad that year, and I think it was the year Oli McBurnie came in as well (on loan from Bradford City), so we had some fantastic characters who really got us through games. Sean McConville who’s at Accrington. We all just seemed to really gel that year. We probably weren’t the greatest of Chester teams but we ended up having a great cup run, finishing the highest the club had, and it was because we got on well together.

Have you ever had to sing when you joined a new team?

When I went to Alty, I sang ‘You Sexy Thing’ (Hot Chocolate); I did that while taking my clothes off on the bus trip home. I thought if I’m gonna do The Full Monty, I’ve got to go for it! I’ve seen some fantastic ones; I remember Tom Shaw at Chester, he brought his guitar out and he must have sang three or four songs. He blended them all into each other and it was probably one of the best things I’ve seen. Like a little concert.

Away from playing, training, coaching, family time as well, are there any other interests you have?

Since I’ve moved over here, I’ve always had two jobs, playing and coaching, so it’s really taken control. It’s a tough one because now that I’ve got kids, I don’t feel like I’ve got time to have any other luxuries, but the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed going and playing a game of golf. Every Friday I’ll try to get a game of golf in, if I’ve not got a match.

Finally, as you look ahead now with Curzon Ashton, what do you think the biggest learning you’ve had from football has been up to now?

I think in football, you have to learn how to deal with things quite quickly, because every week you’ve got another chance to prove yourself right or prove yourself wrong. You’ve got to adapt to upsets pretty quick. One week, you could be the manager’s favourite, and the next week you’re not in the squad. If you’re the type of person that sulks or doesn’t deal with it and move on quickly, you could be out the door. I always try to find a positive in things, whether I have a bad game or something’s happened at home. I think if you think too negatively in football, that mindset can impact you for a long time and affect your career.

Interview by @chris_brookes

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