Cathal McCarron’s interview a gamble the Tyrone player lost

You want to have sympathy for McCarron the addict but it’s harder to have it for the person

Tyrone footballer Cathal McCarron refuses to discuss allegations made against him during an interview with Ger Gilroy on Newstalk's 'Off The Ball'. Audio: Newstalk

 

The thought struck during one of the interminably awkward pauses between Cathal McCarron and Ger Gilroy the other night that we were listening to the radio equivalent of a bet gone wrong.

The Tyrone defender has been doing the circuit to promote his book, Out Of Control, over the past month and always in the background has loomed the family of the 15-year-old girl with whom he had a Tinder encounter in 2015 and their opposition to him being afforded any publicity at all.

For the most part, the background is where the story has stayed. Understandably enough, most media outlets have been leery about getting tangled up in the weeds of it.

Even though it’s been through the legal process and the DPP has decided McCarron had no case to answer, it was just too much of a minefield to chance walking into, especially given the distress of the family.

McCarron likely assumed his Off The Ball interview on Newstalk would go the same way. But right there, in the gaping silences of the closing five minutes of his interview with Gilroy, you could hear the gears turning as the grim truth dawned. His answers became shorter, more scattershot, less coherent, more defiant.

Even if Gilroy’s intention was to give voice to an unknown and largely silenced family, the upshot was a glimpse into the mind of a gambler in trouble. McCarron must have felt that familiar, gradual untethering during the interview, the sense of a situation that was getting away from him, that could go anywhere. He said a while ago that he hasn’t had a bet since April Fool’s Day 2014. But gambling is almost never about the money to someone who has a problem.

Addiction

The lucky ones come out the other side with some vestige of a life left to tend to. Oddly enough, the unknowable side to addiction becomes a help at this stage. Because nobody really knows what you went through to get yourself clean/dry/bet-free, there’s a decent chance of forgiveness for any and all past sins as long as you show willing.

Second Captains

The addict benefits from getting another chance, the people around the addict benefit from a life drained of the old drama.

McCarron robbed from family, friends, the local community in Tyrone and myriad others but because overcoming addiction is such a brutal road to walk, society in general is largely okay with looking past all that and moving on with a clean – or cleanish – slate. He became an addiction counsellor and is training to become a psychotherapist. That’s action to back up talk and people respond well to it.

Apart from anything else, it could well turn out to be incredibly important action. Chances are, society is going to need addiction counselling with gambling specialisation to become a growth industry over the coming decade.

Just last week, the Gambling Commission in the UK released a report claiming that 16 per cent of 11-15-year-olds in England and Wales are spending their own money on gambling on a weekly basis.

Addiction services

In Ireland, a report last summer claimed that addiction services have come across problem gamblers as young as nine years old, so we are in no position to presume it’s just a UK problem.

In this world, we are going to desperately need more ex-gamblers to become counsellors and psychotherapists and teachers and Gardaí and sports coaches and all the rest.

All available evidence says the gambling problem will get worse before it gets better.

There’s every chance that if McCarron continues along the same path he’s on, he’ll end up in credit over time. But that feels a distance away just yet.

After reading his book, you’re left with a sense if Cathal McCarron had gone his whole life without betting so much as a penny, he would still be an unusually violent, belligerent loose cannon with a sharpened sense of victimhood.

You want to have sympathy for McCarron the addict because the torment that pushed him to the brink of throwing himself in front of a tube train in London is obviously real.

But to do that, you have to make yourself be okay with McCarron the person and that is harder to do.

His book tour gambled on nobody drilling too far down into this contradiction.

Another bet lost. 

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