Every Westmeath hurler and footballer who ever donned the maroon jersey has always been my hero. They represent me because of being a better man than I ever was.
Our Tailteann Cup football winners are a case in point. Blessed with an abundance of natural ability, coupled with a tremendous determination to succeed, each and every member of that squad has done their county proud. What perfect role models they are for the youth of our county.
When any one of those players speak, the people will listen; and it’s what two of those players have spoken about that occupies our thoughts today.
My two Westmeath special award All-Stars will have to be Ray Connellan and Luke Loughlin. The entire team has given us pleasure way beyond ‘it’s only a game’, but Ray and Luke may well have saved lives. Is there any greater calling than that?
Last week Luke Loughlin spoke honestly and courageously about his battle with drug and alcohol addiction. (Of course alcohol too is a drug) Luke said that through speaking out he hopes to help other similarly afflicted young people.
I think it is about a year ago that Ray Connellan appeared on the Late Late Show and revealed how he suffered from depression and experienced suicidal urges. Here again, the honesty and humility of a wonderful sportsman we only knew as that majestic mid-field Nordic style warrior, made for compelling viewing. He emphasised that help is available – always someone there to talk to, and I have no doubt but that his story has helped a lot of people. The country embraced Ray Connellan for his contribution.
One of the main reasons that I wrote, ‘If Ever a man Suffered’ in 2005 was the hope that somebody reading it would identify with my battle with alcoholism and seek help. The feed-back I received in that area showed that, thank God, that part of the book worked.
One out of every 12 drinkers is an alcoholic. It is a progressive illness, which can manifest itself from the very first drink, like me, or then again, the progression can take most of a lifetime before the problem becomes critical. One certainty is that the condition always gets worse – never better.
Most people think of the alcoholic as the guy sleeping in a doorway with a bottle of cheap wine tightly grasped in his hand. But this guy only makes up 2 per cent of alcoholics. The remainder go to work, have a home and a family, and appear to live normal lives. Alcoholism is the third highest killer disease in the world. The hardest part of combatting it is that we are always worse than we think we are!
Reading this will make some people feel uneasy … or as I would have done, move on quickly to the next page! The first step is to realise, and then admit, that you have a problem; ‘that your life has become unmanageable’. From this stage the payback starts with an overwhelming surge of relief. You aren’t bad or weak; you just have a disease – and luckily, one that you yourself can do so much to put right. (But not on your own)
A lady doctor friend of mine took a slight offence when we were out in a group one night a couple of years back. I said that there is no other disease where the sufferer can do so much for his or her self, and the medical profession can do so little. I was right …
Let us repeat: Help is available – and it does work! Today there are 2 Million AA members contentedly sober in 180 countries worldwide.
We Irish have a name for indulging in copious alcohol consumption. It may surprise you therefore to learn that a recent study put us at only 7th in the world – with for example, Germany at number 6. I think it is down to how we drink it: Or as I often say about myself, ‘I drank it all together!’
I also wrote in a piece I was asked to do for a Westmeath Senior Hurling Final programme some years ago that one of the few regrets I have is that ‘I took a career break from my hurling to concentrate on my drinking career!’ I played hurling along with Luke Loughlin’s grandfather and how marvellous it is to see Luke back playing and hopefully gracing the fields with his silken skills for many years to come.
I hope that Ray Connellan and Luke Loughlin fully appreciate the difference that their brave decisions will continue to make for sufferers and their families. Very often the message doesn’t hit home right away; but a line, or something Ray or Luke said, pastes itself to the inner conscious and will come back out on the day it is needed most!
A fault which humbles a man is of more use to him than a good action which puffs him up.