For former Kerry goalkeeper Paudie O’Mahoney, 2013 was an annus horribilis which he hopes will lead to change of fortune this year.
In February he had to close down the civil engineering consultancy in Killarney which he first started in the late 1980s – a casualty of the demise of the Celtic Tiger.
When it closed, he was owed €700,000 in outstanding fees. His daughter and sister were also working in the firm. “None of us were getting any sleep at night.”
In April a bad house fire destroyed the kitchen in his home. He went away to Canada to see his other children, a son and daughter. His daughter Fiona informed him that she was going to return to Ireland later that year. When she did return in September, she told him bluntly: "This can't go on, the way you are eating."
O’Mahoney was coming around to the same way of thinking: “That’s what tipped the scales in more ways than one.”
Paudie O’Mahoney retired from the Kerry senior county panel after the 1982 All-Ireland final defeat to Offaly. He won five All-Ireland medals, mostly as a substitute goalkeeper, and played in the 1975 and 1978 All-Ireland finals when Kerry were victorious.
The great Kerry team which dominated Gaelic football from 1975 to 1986 were famously dedicated. Every year stories emanated from the Kingdom of players training on sand dunes on Christmas Day and pushing themselves way beyond the call of duty.
O’Mahoney recalls being “tortured in training” sessions by manager Mick O’Dwyer which regularly included 26 rounds of Fitzgerald Stadium. “If you weren’t up to it, you got sick.”
The players lived like monks from St Patrick’s Day to the last Sunday in September except after major games when they cut loose for a few days.
When he was playing, his fighting weight was 14 stone five pounds. The training regimes were thorough, but the diet was rudimentary.
There was very little understanding of the wear and tear caused by injuries. "I trained for the 1976 All-Ireland final with an Achilles tendon injury and the ground was the hardest it had been for years.
“Medically I was told not to be training but I continued and it f***ed up my career. My Achilles tendon snapped in the final. I wasn’t too pleased about that.”
Of that team, three of its most celebrated players are already dead before their time. John Egan, Paídi Ó Sé and Tadhg Kennelly didn't live to see their 60th birthdays. "I don't want to be the fourth," O'Mahoney says bluntly.
One of his best friends is Séamus Darby, the Offaly forward who ended the Kerry dream of a five-in-a-row in 1982 with a killer goal in the last minute. That goal, as Darby would often recount, turned him into an alcoholic. “He’d say it was the worst thing that ever happened him.”
Being a celebrated footballer involved a lot of celebrating for years after playing.
“Kerry didn’t win an All-Ireland from 1986 to 1997 so we were in demand for functions where there was always drink present,” he says. “When I first won an All-Ireland I went into the pub and there were six pints in front of me before I decided to sit down. I ended up being a good pint drinker. It caught up with me.”
He candidly admits “battling” with a drink problem since 1994. At one stage he was binge drinking two bottles of spirits a day, seven days a week.
After retiring in 1982, he took up coaching with his local Spa GAA club, but started piling on the weight when he stopped doing the same exercises he was prescribing for his players.
He remembers the date, November 1st, 1994, when his wife left him taking their three children with her. For a newly single man, things went from bad to worse.
“My lifestyle became very poor. I wasn’t disciplined in the way I was living my life. I was eating more and drinking more so I piled on the weight.”
When he stood on the scales last Monday week for the first episode of Operation Transformation he was 20 stone nine and a half pounds. With typical candour, he admitted to being "ashamed".
He volunteered and was chosen as one of the leaders on Operation Transformation, the oldest ever in the history of the programme.
He is determined to lose two stone during seven weeks of the programme which will bring him down to 18 and a half stone. His ultimate goal is to have lost four stone by the end of July.
Operation Transformation is on RTÉ One at 8.30pm on Monday and Wednesday nights. rte.ie/ot
The perils of being an ex-sportsman
What do athletes do when the sporting merry-go-round stops? How do you cope with the inevitable disappointments that all sporting careers bring? How do you forge out a new identity for yourself when your own and other people's perceptions of you are bound up with your sporting personality?
The recent acclaimed Ronan O’Gara documentary on RTÉ One shows how difficult it is for players when the inevitable happens and they have to retire. Others such as Alan Quinlan and Paul McGrath have also spoken publicly of their problems.
That and many other questions were the subject of the first Banter session of the year hosted as part of firstfortnight.ie by Irish Times journalist and blogger Jim Carroll.
The sold-out discussion at the Twisted Pepper in Dublin last week featured two of the brightest and most articulate sports people in Ireland – former professional footballer Richard Sadlier and athlete David Gillick.
Sadlier spoke of the difficulties of being an ex-footballer and how so many of them succumb to nostalgia at the expense of moving on with their lives.
He said it was often difficult for sportsmen to cope with life after football when so many of their achievements happened in their 20s.
He spoke of the importance of forging an identity other than through sport. He also criticised the emphasis sports psychologists put on performance rather than being able to cope with the inevitable vicissitudes of sport.
Gillick spoke of how two years of injuries had decimated his confidence and how winning Celebrity Masterchef last summer gave him another outlet for his creativity.
Both agreed that there was a growing awareness of the importance of psychology in sport.