Northern Ireland news

Gambling addiction among top level GAA players 'more difficult to spot early than other risky behaviours'

Tyrone All Ireland-winning goalie Niall Morgan with his team mate Conn Kilpatrick after the latter revealed his gambling addiction. Picture by Mal McCann

GAMBLING addiction among top level GAA players is more difficult to spot early than other `risky' behaviours which elite athletes are susceptible to, Tyrone goalkeeper Niall Morgan said.

The county's Gaelic Players Association (GPA) representative was speaking after his All Ireland winning team mate Conn Kilpatrick revealed how he was left in debt and desperation by his gambling addiction.

"Gambling is a problem, not just confined to GAA players or athletes, but a reflection of wider problems in society," he told the Irish News.

"But there is international evidence to suggest that elite athletes are more susceptible to risky behaviour such as gambling."

Among the pressures on the cohort is the knowledge that they are doing what so many fans can only dream of and "don't have a right to feel bad".

Gambling addiction is an issue the GPA has flagged before, a 2019 survey of members revealing that 80 per cent of senior inter-county GAA players believe their team mates are gambling on a daily or weekly basis.

"You can't know for sure that someone is engaging in it," Mr Morgan said.

"If someone is drinking alcohol you can tell when they are drunk, if they're taking drugs you can tell they're taking drugs - it's easy to see.

"You can't see someone's bank account to know how much they're gambling - or even if they're gambling. There are so many outlets, you can have 40 different accounts online and no one would know.

"The access you can get to credit cards as well now. No one knows how many credit cards you have."

Weeks after the county's Sam Maguire triumph, Conn Kilpatrick revealed how he twice plunged into thousands of pounds of debt after borrowing from friends and family to feed his addiction.

He credits their support, along with former Armagh player Oisín McConville, who has also struggled with gambling addiction, the GPA and counselling for being able to achieve a meaningful recovery.

Mr Morgan, who is also his Edendork clubmate, said the players' association has support in place for players "from counselling level right through to residential care.

"It's not just a phone call - you get straight through to somebody and are able to access the GPA's own counselling service.

"I have used it for mental health reasons, within hours someone contacts you - it's almost like having private mental health care. They check up on you very often over the next time period."

Last year 95 players used the GPA's counselling service - a number that is likely to have risen this year after it extended beyond only male players.

The counselling is confidential and no details of the issues discussed are passed on to the association.

Mr Morgan reached out "at a time when abuse was coming through on social media and other stuff was going on in my own private life... there had been miscarriages".

"People don't understand what you're actually going through," he said.

"They think you're just a footballer and don't have a life outside of it."

His counsellor gave him two or three strategies over the phone that "help me still"

"I still use them and I have passed them on to other people. Passing on strategies is one of the ways that counselling can help more than just the person who gets it."

Members now have access to an app which has "all the information there that you need".

"Sometimes you might not want to come to the likes of me and you don't need to."

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