GAA Football

Cavan's Alan O'Mara to address Belfast mental health event

O'Mara will be the guest speaker at Tuesday's Niamh event at Belfast's Falls Leisure Centre
Andy Watters

CAVAN goalkeeper Alan O’Mara is the guest speaker at Tuesday’s Mental Health Awareness event in the Falls Leisure Centre.

O’Mara, an All-Ireland U21 finalist and Ulster U21 winner and the current number two in Terry Hyland’s emerging Breffni side, has had to come to terms with his own depression in recent years and hopes his experiences will help other men to manage their mental health.

Tuesday night’s Belfast event has been organised by NIAMH (the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health), who have teamed up with the Falls Leisure Centre to stage the informative evening, that will provide boys and men of all ages with advice and tips on how to look after their physical and mental wellbeing.

“Thankfully, I’m in a much better and stronger position at the moment,” said O’Mara.

“Over the last couple of years, I’ve been on my own journey of enlightenment, or whatever you want to call it. Part of that was actually stepping away from the inter-county scene and going away and focusing on myself.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have the support of the GPA (Gaelic Players’ Association) and I’ve been putting attention onto my own life until I’ve reached the point now where I’m much more aware of my own situation and what’s going on in my life.

“With the NIAMH event, I want to share some of the experiences and try and pass that on to maybe help someone else. It could be someone that might be in a bad place or it might be someone who has things going on, it’s just trying to change their behaviour and help them be the best they can be and improve their own mental wellbeing.”

O’Mara explained that being referred for counselling by the GPA was the first step on his road to recovery: “Counselling was the first thing that helped me understand what I was experiencing,” he said.

“That was at the start of 2012 and I would always tell people that going into that counselling was the most enlightening and empowering experience of my life. I learned a huge amount about myself in general and a huge amount about depression in general.

“What it taught me was to look within for answers rather than looking around you. That experience is something that I took a huge amount from and I went back to Cavan in 2013 and we had a good year.

“We got promoted to Division Two and we got to the All-Ireland quarter-final but, after that, I needed to go away again and I took the intervening period to learn and come to terms with what was happening.”

O’Mara admits playing Gaelic football was “a distraction” but, ultimately, he needed to take time out from the game to get to grips with his depression: “Football gave me something to invest totally in and it took away from other stuff,” he said.

“Those times were hugely positive experiences and the likes of that U21 All-Ireland and being part of a Cavan team that won the first Ulster U21 since 1996 and anything since 1997. They were positives times and, even in 2013, getting to play in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry, it was very enjoyable being a Cavan footballer.

“I was lucky to be happy on the field - I was looking for football to solve stuff for me when that probably wasn’t the best relationship and that’s why I had to go away and try and improve that relationship as well as my relationship with plenty of other things.

“One of the things I learned was about improving your relationship between body and mind and that took me a long time to get to grips with. Hopefully, if I can share one or two things with people on the night that they can take away from it, then it’s an event that’s absolutely worth having.”

If you would like to book your free ticket for this event, please visit www.niamhwellbeing.org. There, you will also find information on services provided by NIAMH and information and resources to help you look after your own wellbeing.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access

GAA Football