Belfast Telegraph

Gamblers must not be anonymous in the GAA: Oisin McConville

By Oisin McConville

For decades, indulging in alcoholic refreshment has been almost a prerequisite for GAA players.

It is a fact that celebrations following championship triumphs at all levels have tended to be extended — indeed, in many instances these have lasted for the duration of the week following a particular coup.

But given the stark warnings that have been issued in relation to the excess consumption of alcohol, the strict attitude taken by team managers to drinking and the greater desire of players to make the most of what are becoming shorter inter-county careers, intoxicating liquor is not now viewed with the same apprehension, indeed, fear that it tended to inculcate in the past.

Instead, this fear has been replaced by a greater awareness of the evils that accompany an addiction to gambling.

Earlier this month the Gaelic Players Association revealed that this particular scourge is creating “utter devastation” within the ranks of some GAA players.

The Association’s declaration — and it should be borne in mind that the GPA speaks for just 2,000 of the overall playing membership of Ireland’s biggest sporting body — appears to have struck a chord within every county.

As one who succumbed to gambling on a big scale in the past, I can confirm that it has the potential to wreck a life, cause family upheaval and lead to almost intolerable distress.

The problem, as with all forms of addiction, is how best to combat the evil. Fortunately, with help, I was able to come to terms with my problem and put my life back together again.

There are others like me who have come back from the abyss — players such as Niall McNamee, the gifted Offaly footballer who was afflicted but is now helping others, and Cathal McCarron, the Tyrone defender who had a superb year in his county’s colours last year after having seemingly experienced a premature end to his inter-county career.

I hold up McNamee and McCarron as shining lights to others seeking inspiration in their bid to combat gambling demons at the present time. My admiration for them is based on the strength of character that they have shown and their openness in admitting where they strayed off the straight and narrow.

None of us are qualified to sit in judgment of others — let him who is without sin cast the first stone comes to mind here — and the fact that players who have found themselves in a bad place but recovered to take control of their lives again should be an inspiration to the rest of us.

It is, of course, all too easy to fall through the gambling trap-door. All that is required is a mobile telephone, an accommodating bookmaker and some spare time — a lethal combination as it has turned out in some instances.

A recent survey has revealed that players who participate in team sports are three times more likely to become gambling addicts.

And it does not matter at what level they participate or indeed in what code they are involved.

It is well-known that several high-profile former and present Premier League players have been bitten sharply by the gambling bug and while some like Arsenal duo Tony Adams and Paul Merson have managed to turn their lives round again, others have not been so fortunate.

The demands associated with being a member of an inter-county squad can result in players turning to gambling as an outlet from the intensity to which they are subjected on an ongoing basis while players who are undertaking examinations are under even more pressure.

There is an onus on us all to look out for signs of this and to provide practical and moral help where possible. Self-help, though, should be the first step wherever possible — after all, this can be the real trigger when it comes to rediscovering a lost way of life.

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