Audience hears ‘heartfelt stories’ from recovering addict sports stars

The Old Library Trust, as part of the Community in Transition Project hosted an event at St. Cecilia’s College on Wednesday night that brought the conversation of addiction to the forefront with three established past and recent sportspeople who will share their experience of addiction.

A capacity audience listened intently as chair Raymond McCartney questioned the three panellists on how addiction, through drugs, alcohol and gambling affected their lives and the lives of those around them. All agreed that they had come through a ‘dark period’ and were in ‘different transitions’ in terms of getting over their addictions.

The three – Oisin McConville, former Armagh County Captain and current TV pundit, public speaker and Gaelic coach, Sean Friars Ex-Liverpool academy player who shared a pitch with Micheal Owen and Steven Gerrard, and played for Ipswich town, Derry City, Dungannon swifts and Institute FC and current Cliftonville FC Derry native Connor McDermott – all related their experiences with the hope of helping others within the local community.

The project, was part of a health and wellbeing initiative led by the Old Library Trust’s Healthy Living Centre in Creggan, partnered, and supported by the Bogside and Brandywell Health Forum and funded by the Executive Office’s ‘Communities in Transition’ project.

Communities in Transition is part of the Executive’s Action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality, and organised crime. It aims to support communities where there has been a significant history of paramilitary activity and coercive control, to become more resilient.

The initiative aims to support communities to become more resilient by addressing a key issue associated with poor physical and mental health – Addiction – an issue that has been highlighted within the local area with negative impacts on individuals and families.

The event offered a unique insight into addiction with an open and honest conversation by respected individuals in the sporting world sharing their story and advice on how people within the local area can make some positive steps in the right direction with their own addiction challenge.

Speaking on the night Oisin McConville explained how gambling stripped him of his emotions and that ‘I would have sold my mother to get a bet on!’  spoke emotionally on being a slave to a gambling addiction for sixteen years wreaked havoc in his life and that sport was the only thing that kept him alive. He spoke proudly of the fact that ‘My last bet was on 12th October, 2005’. He added that now he was in a happier place and stressed how important his wife and family were in his life now. Oisin now gives something back as he works as an addiction counsellor and stressed that he is still ‘a work in progress.’

Local Galliagh man and ex-footballer Sean Friars said we all need to ‘learn the importance of self-care and find that balance in life. He also said family played a large part in him getting through addiction. He relived his experiences of leaving Derry and going to a big club like Liverpool as a youngster. Loneliness played a major part in his downfall. He recounted of numerous phone calls home when he went to a call box and was always telling his parents things were great and he was getting on well in life. Then ‘On the way back to the digs, the tears were tripping me! I would’ve spent time standing outside the digs settling myself down before going into the landlady, so embarrassed as I was. His advice to the audience was ‘drugs and drink stripped me of everything – find help, don’t let it happen to you!’

The youngest of the three, Cliftonville footballer and Culmore native, Connor McDermott described how at a young age and while still at college he got an adrenaline rush from putting on his first bet. The promising young footballer went into detail how gambling took over his teen years and affected his life in many ways – his sport, his friendships and family. He poignantly recollected on how his mother forgave him, even after he stole a large sum of money from her.

‘I got lost in the darkness of addiction, I couldn’t find a way out! It’s imperative you talk and find a way out, be it through family, friends or professional counselling.’

He added that in three weeks time he will have achieved a calendar year without placing a bet and hoped his family were as proud of him as he was of himself.

Project Director of the Old Library Trust summed the evening up by saying…..