BY KIERAN McCARTHY
IF only one person in West Cork benefits from Oisin McConville’s upcoming talk in Barryroe this Saturday night then it will have been a success, according to the former All-Ireland winning Armagh footballer.
One of the most recognisable figures in the GAA, McConville (39) has been invited to West Cork by Barryroe GAA Club, and he will deliver a wide-ranging address at the school in Barryroe, starting at 8.30pm on Saturday.
While, undoubtedly, Gaelic football and McConville’s own football experiences will be discussed, he will also chat openly about his gambling addiction, which saw him amass sizeable debts before he eventually admitted his problem and sought help in 2007.
The former Crossmaglen Rangers forward, a hugely decorated club player, turned his life around, gained qualifications as a counsellor and he is now in the position where he can use his profile to help others who are suffering with addictions.
‘A lot of Saturday night’s talk will be about my time as an inter-county footballer and the difficulties I went through, as well as mental health and emotional wellbeing. It will be about all the topics that are in peoples’ minds at the minute, not just in sport but in life in general, regards addiction, suicide and so on,’ McConville told The Southern Star.
‘I am no different to people in general society who have suffered with addictions but with the bit of profile that I have through football it has given me a platform to speak about these issues. I think it’s important that I do that.
‘Mental health and emotional wellbeing are issues that I feel very strongly about and that’s why I will hop into my car and drive down to West Cork this weekend. When I was struggling I got a lot of help from the people around me. Only for that I didn’t realise that there was help out there, I didn’t realise that there were outlets as far as help is concerned.
‘It’s important to educate people and let them know that if they do fall on hard times that there is help out there.
‘There will be people in the hall who will themselves be struggling with an issue or who will know someone who is going through a tough time, and if they can get something out of my talk then that makes it all worthwhile.’
McConville added: ‘The other key point is that if it helps one person who is struggling then the statistics say that it helps ten people that are around them – family members, close friends, employers, employees.
‘The reality is that being Irish our families are a bit bigger than 10 people. My immediate family is 33 people so I was affecting those 33 people. I was affecting people that I was playing football with. I was affecting friends.
‘You can see how just one person getting help can have an affect on so many other peoples’ lives.’
The former All-Star footballer believes that the stigma surrounding gambling addiction and mental health is slowly being removed, but there’s still a considerable way to go.
That’s why it’s so important that high-profile figures like McConville speak openly and honestly about their own experiences in an effort to help those that are currently suffering in silence.
‘Slowly but surely that stigma is being lifted away from addiction,’ McConville said.
‘We are at the stage now where every family has been affected by either mental health issues, addiction, suicide and so on; it has touched everybody. As a result people are more tuned into it and people are more willing to listen to people talking about these issues. The more people that talk about it, then the better it is.
‘One of the books that I read when I was in treatment and trying to get my head around addiction was Tony Adams’ book about his alcohol addiction. He sought help for his problem, went through recovery and came out the other side to set up foundation (Sporting Chance Clinic) to help people who suffer from drink, drugs or gambling addictions.
‘What I do is on a lot smaller scale obviously than that but if I can help one person then it’s all worthwhile.’
All players, both adult and underage, former players and supporters are welcome to attend McConville’s talk this Saturday night in the school hall in Barryroe, as are members from neighbouring clubs. Admission is free and the Barryroe club is providing refreshments after the session.