Maurice Shanahan: walk and talk your way from Darkness Into Light
'It's no wonder people are depressed with all that's been going on – but, I can only say, if you are, you're not the only one. My advice is to pick up the phone and ring someone…there's always someone out there willing to help you.
'Making that first call seems like the hardest step – but, looking back, it's the easiest step, then you can open up and talk to people.'
Maurice Shanahan has been there, made that phone call, and is now wearing the 'Darkness Into Light' T-shirt.
The former Waterford hurler attempted suicide a number of years back but offers hope to fellow depression sufferers that they too can come through it.
Criticism, external and internal, were factors which brought down the younger brother of Deise legend Dan:
"To this day, I still can't pinpoint one or two things… Back in 2014 things just started getting on top of me. You'll always look back and say 'Why?'
"In March and April of that year I was out injured a lot and that played on my mind a small bit. What would have played on my mind a lot was, I came on the Waterford panel in 2009 and hadn't really broken onto the team. I came on with Noel Connors and he took off straightaway, so you're having doubts in your own head 'Are you good enough to be an inter-county hurler?'
"If you play a bad game you're listening to people saying 'Is he in his brother's shadow?' or 'Will he ever make it?' That stuff would have dragged me down and bothered me a lot. I'm not saying it was the main reason but it wasn't nice to be hearing things like that. That hurt me a lot."
Yet depression can afflict anyone, he points out: "It doesn't matter at all what's behind it. Everyone is different, everyone has their own reasons.
"I kinda bottled it all up inside me, didn't want to talk to anybody about it…not because I was an inter-county hurler but because I was too proud to let people know I was struggling.
"My family didn't know at the start because I tried to deal with it myself – but I couldn't really. You can't deal with that stuff yourself."
A call to a doctor helped, as did the Gaelic Players' Association. "Getting in touch with Conor Cusack opened up the window for me, he had the GAA background and I was willing to listen to someone like that more than my family.
"The GPA helped me big time, getting counsellors; once I started to open up you could definitely see a small bit of light. The more I talked, the brighter and brighter the tunnel was getting.
"What Darkness Into Light and Pieta House are doing for people with depression is absolutely unbelievable."
The Lismore clubman has had highs and lows over the past 18 months. Left off the Waterford panel by new manager Liam Cahill in late 2019, he admits: "It was definitely difficult at the start – still is to this day."
The Deise went all the way to the national decider last year and Shanahan honestly acknowledges: "Watching the matches was very hard. I was thinking 'I gave 10 years there, if they win the All-Ireland now….'
"I was hoping they would, obviously, as a Waterford supporter – but the day of the All-Ireland Final my family would have said I was a grumpy fella. I wished I was togging out with the boys.
"Life goes on but I was disappointed the way it ended."
He accepts that his inter-county career is over…well, almost. Having made one difficult phone call, and taken another one from Cahill, his policy of talking applies to this area of life too:
"The door is probably closed for me, I'm 31 years of age - but if a new manager came in and made the phone call to ask me if I'd be interested, I would look at it. You have to be realistic too and think can you help the team or are you just going back for the sake of it?"
Off the field, recent highpoints have included his marriage to Katie in February of last year, although "then Covid took over, it was hard at the start, the two of us in the house every evening," he says with a smile.
Bad followed good when he lost his job due to the pandemic: "I'd been working for Iverk Produce for 13 years, delivering fruit and veg, and they closed up shop so I lost my job. I love doing deliveries, driving around meeting people.
"I got a job in Dungarvan, but I was working every second weekend and I made the decision to give that up because of the hurling, that's probably a regret. I've had one or two jobs since but I'm officially unemployed. With things starting to open up, something will come up. What's for you won't pass you."
Indeed his rollercoaster took another upturn recently with the birth of his first child, Rosie: "She's taken over the house now, it's a busy house, although I'm not doing too many night feeds.
"Katie has been brilliant. It's fantastic - big changes, but we wouldn't change it for the world."
Life can still seem tough, though, he says: "Some days you wake up and just don't want to do anything, just lie in bed – but I try to get up and get on with it, ring one or two friends or a family member, talk to them, or go for a run. You're in a better headspace straightaway. Everyone has bad days, it's just how you deal with them.
"A small bit of depression can build up over a week or two and get on top of you. People who suffer from depression, you need to talk to someone."
* The public is being urged to sign up to a special Darkness Into Light (DIL) that will take place on Saturday, May 8 this year. DIL, one of the biggest global charity events of the year, returns in Northern Ireland for 'One Sunrise Together' with organisers, Pieta, asking people to sign up and mark the event with an activity of their choice – be that walking, running, hiking, biking or simply sharing their sunrise.
These activities, carried out within Covid guidelines, will help shine a light on suicide and self-harm while raising vital funds for the prevention and bereavement services provided by 17 partner charities in Northern Ireland as well as Pieta, the founding charity of DIL.
To find out more information about signing up and fundraising visit www.darknessintolight.com