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Tyrone All-Ireland hero Conn Kilpatrick has 'served the public good' by sharing gambling struggle

The Tyrone midfielder has won praise for using his profile in the weeks following the team's triumph to raise awareness of the toll of addiction in families across Ireland. Picture by Philip Walsh

ALL Ireland hero Conn Kilpatrick has "served the public good" by talking about his struggle with a gambling addiction that saw him "borrow or steal" to place bets.

The Tyrone midfielder has won praise for using his profile in the weeks following the team's triumph to raise awareness of the toll of addiction in families across Ireland.

The 23-year-old told RTÉ Claire Byrne Live, that an intervention from friends and family in February 2018 halted his spiralling problem which had plunged him more than £10,000 in debt, but he went on to relapse the following September.

At the height of his addiction he said he was lying to get the cash to keep gambling.

"In 2018 it kind of all came out. I had just borrowed too much money and stole that much money that it all caught up with me.

"I was borrowing from friends and family, my brother, my granny, different friends and just anywhere where I could get the money.

"I was maybe saying that I needed to pay the car payment or I was going on holidays and was a bit short and I needed a bit more.

"To be honest, I could come up with a lie as quick as I could do anything. Whatever I needed to say to get it, I probably did say it."

Mr Kilpatrick says his eventual recovery came with the support former Armagh footballer Oisín McConville - who has struggled in the past with a gambling addiction - and the Gaelic Players Association, as well as family, friends and professional counselling.

Omagh councillor and Tyrone GAA fan Barry McElduff told The Irish News his openness will help scores of other people and families currently suffering in isolation.

"This is a major problem across society and it's helpful when a well-known or successful sports person comes forward with their story.

"People will commend his courage because it serves a public good. What he said directs public attention and focusses the minds of policy-makers.

"Just today I received an anonymous letter from a parent who is at their wits end about their son who has a problem with gambling telling me how he takes money that doesn't belong to them from the rest of the family and he is breaking the family's heart.

"They were appealing to me to do something about it, such is the crisis in their family."

Mr McElduff said health trusts must signpost what services are available in every community so people can get the help they need.

Oisin McConville, who is now a trained addiction counsellor, says he takes calls from people daily with similar issues, describing the problem as "more prevalent than ever".

"I look at it as a societal thing. Society is in real bother and the GAA just reflects what is going on in society," he told the Irish Examiner.

He said there is a three-month waiting list for treatment centres and in the meantime there is a "level of the crisis".

"I am talking about the level of debt, the level of impact it is having on sport, occupations, college, relationships, families."

Mr Kilpatrick said his problem started "innocent" when he was "about 15 or 16 doing a wee bet with my father and my brother on a Saturday just for a bit of craic and for a bit of banter".

But, "as I grew older it kind of became more apparent", with more trips to the bookies and "a few online accounts", leaving him "very moody".

"I just wanted to go into my room and get on my phone and see who I could borrow money off, the next person, and what I was going to gamble on the next day, what football or horses.

He credits his recovery with his ability to focus on his sport and help Tyrone to their victory over Mayo in Croke Park last month.

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