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Depression hit when dad died, but now I want to help others: Kerr

 

By Declan Bogue

A glorious Saturday in Newry. A perfect pitch, a decent crowd, people in shorts, t-shirts and sunglasses and the whiff of a shock in the air as Antrim prepare to take on Down in their own backyard in Ulster Championship football.

At the final whistle, there will be men standing with head in hands or else crying into the turf. Whatever happens, Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr will be doing nothing of the sort. He knows what real pain is.

It hasn't even been three months since the BT engineer went public with the black dog that had been hounding him for years - the best decision he had ever made.

His depression was brought on by the death of his father Pat, a man who, as a taxi driver and coalman, knew everyone and had a bit of craic everywhere he went in Belfast. But Pat was a heavy smoker.

On Tuesday, July 3, 2012, Kerr's mother Maud met him at the front door of their home and floored him with the words "Daddy has cancer".

They went through the hell that has become so familiar to almost every family. Treatment. Setbacks. Improvements. Hope, elation and then despair as the tumours returned, ever more aggressive.

At the end of February, Kerr wrote movingly of his father's passing in an essay for the Gaelic Players' Association website.

Within it, he noted: "The worst experience was walking him down the driveway as my mum locked the doors behind us. He was saying, 'Sorry' to me, apologising.

"It's something you never see, is your daddy cry. And that was the first time I had seen him properly crying, despite what he had been going through. It was a terrible experience for me, but carrying him is something I would do a hundred or a million times again. Anyone would do that for both their parents without having to be asked."

After Pat died, Chris struggled for another 18 months before he had to address it. There are only so many nights you can lie awake crying into your pillow so that your mother and sister, Nicola, can't hear you. The despair was choking him.

"I was going to training and I was in the middle of the session, thinking to myself that football was becoming a bit of a chore and I didn't want to be there, to be honest. I wanted to get home and lie in bed," he said.

"This went on and on. I am just glad I came out the other side of it.

"I think I spoke out about it because of living in west Belfast, the suicide rate in young men up to 35, if I could put it out there and one person could read it, then that's all I want to do.

"I feel a lot more comfortable in my own skin. I have been No.1 with St Gall's and Antrim now for the last eight or nine years. That just comes with age. I feel more assured, I doubt less."

The statistics of young men committing suicide in west and north Belfast continue to shock. Men between the age of 30 and 34 in north Belfast are most at risk than any other region in the UK.

At 31 now, the county goalkeeper has done a service to the public at large.

He did a cognitive behavioural therapy course that continues to provide a framework for his life.

"It was the biggest thing, just about altering your mindset. It's alright to have bad days," he stated.

"I was making mountains out of molehills - any little thing at all would make me feel like the world was ending. The amount of irrational thinking I was caught up in was just stupid.

"But the GPA helped me. I thought about it for three or four years before speaking about it, but dad has passed away five years now, so I just… not that I have moved on, but I just thought it was time."

The reaction has moved him.

"There were complete strangers who came up in the middle of the street and, even after the first few league games with St Gall's, people walked up from the opposition, managers, young people at the games would come up and just start a conversation about someone they know, or themselves," he said.

"People said that what I wrote, it felt like they could have written the exact same thing. It was published on a Thursday and by the Saturday, eight players had contacted me.

"It might not have been to do with grief, it might have been other troubles they have had. But I was hoping it might help one person in north or west Belfast where this thing is so prevalent."

Kerr has always been mentioned as the joker in the Antrim camp. A typical goalkeeper. But the weight off his shoulders has shown on the pitch.

In six league games this season, he conceded just one goal - a scrappy effort against Carlow that came from a free falling short and a bit of a scramble.

Under manager Lenny Harbinson, he has thrived.

When Harbinson was his club manager at St Gall's, he was spoiled for choice, with Fermanagh goalkeeper Ronan Gallagher getting the nod between the pair as they won the All-Ireland Club title in 2010.

So once Harbinson asked Kerr into the panel for this year, there was only one question he had for the manager.

"Is Ronnie coming to do goals?"

Still the joker.

Belfast Telegraph

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