Fear of gambling relapse ‘just terrifies’ Offaly’s Niall McNamee
Veteran footballer talks about how he has dealt with problem gambling issues
Offaly and Rhode footballer Niall McNamee at Croghan Hill in Offaly during the Extern Problem Gambling media day on Wednesday. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Niall McNamee reckons he’ll spend most of today asleep, his energy levels whacked after a day of fielding questions about his gambling addiction and how others can be helped.
There were radio, print and online interviews throughout Wednesday for the veteran Offaly footballer who admits it takes all his mental energy to get through them.
The round of interviews were to highlight the Extern Problem Gambling service and the support it provides for those affected by problem gambling.
The thing is, McNamee isn’t an addiction counsellor or a therapist but his high profile as a top intercounty footballer means he’s often the face of such campaigns and is regularly the first point of contact for individuals who find themselves in trouble.
About two years into his own recovery, he made a conscious decision to embrace such a role.
“I suppose it snowballed from there,” he says. “The guys here [Extern] got me at a good time, they could have rang me in a week’s time and I mightn’t have . . . sometimes you have to weigh it up because it does take a big toll on you.
“Obviously I’m in recovery from gambling and I will always be in recovery from gambling and I do my meetings and meet people. But I suppose you don’t necessarily want to be defined by it either, if that makes sense. I do have that conversation with myself a lot of the time when these things come up and this was no different I suppose.”
McNamee, still playing for Offaly at 35, admits the thoughts of ever returning to gambling “just terrifies me”. It took him nine years to pay off the debts he accumulated for starters.
That’s why when he’s watching sports on TV, he’ll hit the mute button when the ads come on as they inevitably promote betting in some form.
“If I was to gamble again, I don’t know if I would stop. I don’t know if I would have the balls to come back and say if I had a relapse and then go back to square one and start all over again,” he said.
Life throws curve balls at him too, when that discipline is tested. He admits he struggled generally in 2020 with the effects of a concussion picked up while playing for Rhode in the previous year’s Offaly semi-finals.
“It was difficult, I was getting very tired during days, having to sleep for an hour or two during the day as well,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s completely gone, the last few weeks, it comes and goes. I’d say I’m 90 per cent there. Scary enough, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been knocked out a few times down the years but never had any after effects but this one was a tough one to deal with, it was hard to get over it.”
At one stage after the concussion, and a spell in hospital, he found himself at home in tears for no reason he could comprehend.
“I was sitting on the couch and just started to cry, I just burst out crying for no apparent reason,” he said. “Herself was here with me and I was saying, ‘I have no idea why I’m crying’. The pamphlets that they gave me at the hospital, I hadn’t read them but she had and she said, ‘Look, it’s just one of the side effects, it’s perfectly normal’. There were those days where you just feel down, it lasted for a while.
“It was difficult, for the most part I’d be a positive person so to wake up some mornings and really feel groggy and foggy in the head and not feel like myself was tough, because it’s not who I am. I just had to deal with it. But it has gotten much better in the last couple of months, it kicks in now and then but for the most part I think I’ve over the worst of it.”
McNamee picked up another injury in training last weekend, dislocating his finger.
“We stitched it up on Sunday so hopefully I’ll be back 100 per cent in a week or so,” he says. “I’m really enjoying it, I’ll stay going as long as I feel I’m adding a bit of value.”
*Less than 1 per cent of people who could benefit from treatment for problem gambling ever seek it. Extern Problem Gambling provides support for anyone affected by problem gambling and offers remote services by fully qualified and accredited addiction counsellors. For support send a text to Extern Problem Gambling on 089 241 5401 (ROI) or 07537142265 (NI). See www.problemgambling.ie