Half Time

Game 1

World Mental Health Day

These blog posts usually start with a quick recap of whatever has happened in Dundalk’s last match and then I go off in whatever direction the weeks news takes me. And although we had an incredible Friday night to recap on, I won’t be doing that just yet.

October 10th is World Mental Health day so that’s what this post is going to be about. If you came here to read what I thought of the Rovers game Friday night? Thank you, you are a fool, why are you doing that? And also, sorry, come back in a couple of days.

Let me start this by explaining what this blog was supposed to be when I started it. I know I’ve explained in essence what it was supposed to be about but my intent, my ambition was to be happy if three people each week read it. My wife, my sister and my dad probably. I told myself I would be happy if that happened.

Needless to say, there have been more than three readers. Sometimes a lot more, sometimes a few more.

The first time I went on the Town End Podcast this season I was internally crippled with nerves. Days before appearing, the dark thoughts started to creep in, ‘You know nothing about football’, ‘No one thinks you’re funny’, ‘No one cares what you think about anything’, all that lovely stuff.

That nervousness never goes away. Each week, each show I’m nervous. Nervous I’ll say something dumber than usual, nervous that someone will comment something about me that will get stuck in my head for weeks or maybe more. But most of all nervous that I will let the lads who were kind enough to let me join the podcast down.

So let’s take just those two things and forget about all the other things in life that give me anxiety. I’m nervous and anxious about every podcast and now that the blog has developed a bit of an audience I’m nervous and anxious about how each one is going to be received. I know I shouldn’t be. I know I need to be stronger in my own self belief but I’m not and I never have been. I continually put myself in positions where I’m open to criticism even though I absolutely cannot deal with failure or criticism.

Even writing like this is making me feel nervous and I’ve already deleted a bunch of paragraphs because I feel like it’s too vulnerable or too whatever.

While I find it difficult dealing with the repercussions of what I write or say, I have absolutely no idea how professional football players cope with the mental side of being a professional footballer. I really don’t.

When I think of how brittle I am, how little it would take to make me emotionally crawl into a ball and stay there until the summer time, it makes me marvel at players and coaches who get ten thousand times worse abuse than I will ever get and keep coming back for more.

My last blog post asked questions of the manager of the football club. Guess how I felt after I wrote it? I reread it over and over before I hit publish because I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t gone too far, that I hadn’t said anything that I wouldn’t say to the man’s face if I was presented with the opportunity.

I know that part of the game of football management and being a football player is being able to handle criticism and, I won’t lie, I thoroughly enjoyed laughing and booing those ex Dundalk players who played for Rovers the other night. That’s part of the game and we all know that.

We need to be able to voice our concerns and our objections and some of us have chosen to do so through blog posts or podcasts and we have put our names out there, we don’t hide behind handles or blank avatars. We’re honest about our opinions but those opinions can be extremely hurtful and affecting. We need to keep being mindful of that very thing.

There have been some truly tragic stories of sports people who have found the burden of their chosen profession too much to bear. Some have taken their own lives, some have chosen a life of destruction and there is a give and take with being an athlete. There cannot be any feeling on earth better than scoring a last minute winner, saving a last-minute penalty, winning a gold medal or getting up off the mat and over coming the odds.

But the flip side of the coin. To miss the last minute penalty, to make a mistake that leads to a goal, to fall at the final hurdle or to try to get up off the mat but not quite make it to your feet in time? The pain that comes with that I cannot imagine.

I know we as human beings do this every day. I know that each one of us has our demons, each one of us is fighting our battles and we all have doubts, anxieties and I said this to someone very recently, life is very, very hard. If you can make it out of bed in the morning and exist and take part in the world around you then you are a superhero. Never let yourself forget how strong you are to be able to do the things that you do.

Sports people, elite or otherwise, are absolutely fascinating to me. I’ve spent my whole life marvelling at them. I’m obsessed with sports and the people who have chosen to take part, who have volunteered themselves to reach a goal, to inspire others, to be part of a team and who have opened themselves up to absolutely relentless abuse.

I love sports people and I want us to be able to take better care of them because too often the effect of their failures, mentally can be devastating. Of course we’re the fans and we feel it just as much if not more than players and we have every right to be upset if things don’t go our way and I will write another post another day about the insanity of being a sports fan.

But for now, on World Mental Health day I just wanted to write this. I feel the weight of expectation when I write a blog that a handful of people will read. I feel anxious and nervous about letting my podcast team mates or their listeners down. I have absolutely no idea how sports people do it.

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