The Gaelic Players Association launched ‘We Wear More Than Our County Colours’ Emotional Health and Wellbeing Campaign last week.
I believe this is an excellent and a very necessary initiative. The GPA’s focus is on the inter-county player’s emotional wellbeing. It was interesting to note Shay Given’s comments after he partook in a Donegal training session last week. He told the Irish Independent: “The dedication and work rate is phenomenal. You would go far to see a fitter team in the Premier League. It’s hard to believe they’re amateur.” Indeed it is.
Back in my playing days, the commitment and sacrifice was huge but in the modern game it is startling. It is commendable that our inter-county players can dedicate so much to the game and yet hold down full time employment. For some the price paid for such demands can be high.
There are those hidden emotional stresses that the public never see. The normal pressures of life nowadays coupled with the demanding nature of inter-county football can lead to mental fatigue predisposing the player to depression, addiction or other debilitating mental related disorders.
Every inter-county player knows that he has to retire some day. So he’ll push himself to the limit in that short space of time in his life. Every player who has retired from inter-county football is lying if they tell you that it was not a traumatic time.
It took me almost three years to normalise myself and acquaint myself with what we perceive as ‘normal’ living. Some would say that I’m still far from normal! I basically wasn’t prepared for the shock of leaving my inter-county career behind me. It was deflating. I got up in the morning and had nothing to train for. I basically lost interest in life. I needed to fill the void. I managed the Donegal U-21 team for a period. Although relatively successful I was still empty.
I went back to my first sporting love of athletics. Again I was quite successful. I needed more. I went to work in an orphanage in Romania to engage in some charity work. I was doing anything and everything to help me get over the loss of my inter-county career. My second trip to Romania almost killed me. Exhausted physically and mentally my body and soul gave up. I witnessed hell on earth in that orphanage. My spirit was broken and I descended into a very dark place.
Depression is a condition that is loosely defined. There are genuinely not the adequate words to describe what it is. Life is absolutely meaningless and I was in a state of nothingness. The pain is absolute. In promoting this campaign ‘We Wear More Than Our County Colours’ by the GPA, there is a photograph of Michael Murphy on the GPA’s website with the word ‘pain’ written on his arm. It was this image that prompted me to write this particular article.
This was a very low time in my life but it was a great time of learning and education for me. I hope that the GPA will prepare our-inter county players for retirement. In the meantime while they are still representing their respective counties it is imperative that we protect them and manage their emotional and mental welfare. The advent of social media such as Twitter, Face book, Snap chat, YouTube, LinkedIn, What Sapp, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Google plus and many more have opened up a whole new world where nothing goes unnoticed. I highlight only these because these are the most popular. The players cannot hide from public spectacle nowadays. This adds to the pressure put on these young lads’ shoulders.
This latest campaign by the GPA also deals with issues such as financial difficulties, relationship break-ups, anxiety, performance and other stresses that may arise during an inter-county player’s career.
The Association has to be greatly commended for their work and especially for providing much needed assistance for our inter-county players.
As mentioned here on other occasions, if you are concerned, worried or have questions in relation to mental welfare there are numerous places where you can seek help. Your own GP is a good place to start. Depression today is far more understood and not as stigmatised as it once was.
There are websites such as www.aware.ie, www.reachout.com, www.pieta.ie, www.headsup.ie which will answer many of your questions and put you in touch with people who specialise in this area. Mental instability is unfortunately becoming much more common in our modern world. It is true that people are far more willing to open up about their condition but our economic climate has led to a definite increase in depression. As the GPA’s initiative states “We Wear More Than Our County Colours” so do a lot of ordinary people in every walk wear a mask.
Do not suffer in silence. I can empathise with the many suffers out there.
a dark Seek help and keep the faith!