He may be best known for minding the net as the very last line of defence on the All Ireland winning Donegal team. But Paul Durcan also plays another important role in his voluntary work as a mental health advocate for Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health on an awareness campaign in association with the Gaelic Players Association.
In encouraging young people to share their problems, the popular Donegal Town man, known to most as “Papa” related some of his own experiences saying, “I lost my job earlier in the year, and I think it was the football and the training that kept me going. I always had something to focus on as I was out of work for a few months.”
“I eventually picked up a job and think the training filled a gap and kept me concentrating on something. The discipline within the training and lifestyle has got a lot more important to us and I try to bring that into everyday life. Learning the discipline to put things out of your head is also a great help,’
“Teamwork is a huge thing within GAA, we are a panel of 44 players, you learn how they play and react to certain situations. Life is a lot better when you are getting on well within a team and you have people around you to support you. I enjoy everything about it, lads backing you up and learning how to react and engage with them.”
Paul spoke of the importance of reaching out, talking to someone and reaching out for help saying, “ Definitely the facilities are there, when I wasn’t working I would go down to the Fás office, people were very helpful and easy to approach, it was easy to get a meeting with them, there are courses out there and jobs out there.
“I have a close family and am the youngest, my brothers and sisters are my role models, there are options within my own football club but I have been lucky enough to find the support I need within my own family.
“I have not had too many tough times personally, I can always approach my family, guys within my club and school friends.”
In a week that has been one of celebration and pure joy in every corner of the county Paul also addressed the dangers of alcohol abuse. “Alcohol is abused to a point, stricter laws are needed and more education about alcohol is required. There are side effects of alcohol and how your body can react to it. I can have a drink myself and feel the effects for weeks afterwards, I don’t feel as good, it affects the body immensely, you don’t train right, I can feel lethargic, eat the wrong food and your sleep patterns are affected.
Help is at hand
“If you don’t talk about problems, it can build up and to be able to talk is a release, maybe one person can guide you in the right direction. There are facilities out there to help.”
He also stressed that being happy in your career is often more important than financial gain, “Money is a huge thing, everyone is thinking about money when leaving school and going to college, how much money can I make in my career? I think it’s better to be happy in your career.
“I always say work to live, it is important to pursue a career that you want to do for yourself and one that makes you happy. It’s really important to feel you are going in the direction you want as it could easily be your career for life.”
Dr Joseph Duffy from Headstrong said, “We know how important these GAA players are in the hearts and minds of everyone. We in Headstrong, felt that if we could encourage young men in particular to reach out and share their problems we would help them to connect with each other and their communities and by doing this, build their resilience to face challenges to their mental health”
“Paul was one of the first to come forward and his generosity of spirit is incredible. In a challenging schedule where he was juggling work, study and training he found time to come in and help us with this important awareness campaign.”