Belfast Telegraph

Great chance for wonderful legacy

By Declan Bogue

Last Saturday in Templepatrick, the Ulster Council held their annual GAA Coaching and Games Development Conference.

It was the usual topical wide range of concern for those involved in coaching and volunteering at their clubs.

Those who wished to learn how about progression their club could attend the talk delivered by Sean McGoldrick, the man behind the Gaelic games revolution in Eoghan Rua, Coleraine.

The former national hurling coach Paudie Butler was there spreading his positivity with a workshop called; 'Positive Coaching, Positive Language, Positive Engagement.'

One of the more revelatory workshops was a talk from former Manchester City and Northern Ireland international soccer player, Jeff Whitley.

Speaking on behalf of Tony Adams' addiction charity 'Sporting Chance', Whitley related his experiences as a young man unable to handle the many pitfalls in his sport.

At Man City, Whitley hooked up with Nicky Weaver and Richard Dunne as a trio that liked to enjoy themselves.

Back during the 2002 World Cup when Roy Keane was holed up in his hotel room in Saipan fuming, Richard Dunne was asking journalists during a meet-and-greet barbecue with the Republic of Ireland squad why they gave him such a hard time. Unfortunately for Dunne, he was smoking a cigarette while asking and this detail became famous.

But Dunne was able to recognise the path his career was heading and he is still an international footballer who played in QPR's draw at home to Burnley on Saturday. Weaver remains a professional footballer at Aberdeen.

Whitley is selling cars in Stockport. Many would regard his life as wasted, but Jeff Whitley wakes up knowing that he is the master of his fate, through seeking help.

Speaking in 2011 about his tribulations, he painted a vivid picture.

"I'd been on humongous benders," he told the BBC.

"It wasn't just alcohol, it was cocaine and a mixture of other drugs. Cocaine just enabled me to drink more. From being so drunk to then having some cocaine and being able to go another two or three days.

"I'd had numerous experiences with my body, where it would literally have to shut down for me to go to sleep. At times I would be praying to die. I was throwing up blood, waking up with urine and the rest of it in the bed. My back was in agony ... "

Last Saturday he relayed some of these grisly tales and spread the good word that sporting bodies are gradually realising is part of their remit.

Addiction comes in many forms and just a week ago we had the launch of the official GAA guidelines for players on gambling. Oisín McConville spoke eloquently about the nature of his addiction and although we should really be thinking about him in terms of recovery, he can be said to be a success story.

Others are not so fortunate and still have some way to go.

There is a difference between amateur and professional sport when it comes to social and personal problems, however. In the GAA, the normal career-path for a player is to stand out at school. Before long the schoolboy would get good enough grades to attend a third-level college, with an emphasis on Gaelic games.

Sigerson football and Fitzgibbon hurling is almost a rite of passage for the inter-county stars of the future. It exposes them to standards and players from other counties.

Professional sport has been slow to realise that within a club structure, their playing staff is their most valuable resource. The old-school approach was one of hard knocks and a 'toughening-up' process that apprentices endured.

However, with sport becoming another wing of the entertainment industry and all the financial rewards trickling down to players, pastoral care became further neglected. Players became addicted to gaudy commercialism.

This is where education – both of the world around you, and your own emotional stratosphere – is essential.

There was a time that the Gaelic Player's Association was viewed with suspicion, but in recent times they and the leadership of the GAA have shown they can work with each other.

GAA sportsmen can have addictive personalities. The fact they devote so many hours to their chosen sport is proof.

But the pressures on players continue to rise. It is in this instance that people must be made aware of the counselling services of the GPA.

Find out more at www.gaelicplayers.com.

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