Friday 26 May 2017

McCarron book serves as a cautionary tale about perils of addiction

Cathal McCarron: Full disclosure
Cathal McCarron: Full disclosure

Declan Bogue

Clones is sweltering as it toasts new Ulster champions Tyrone.

It's July 17, 2016, and reporters swarm in for quotes. I stand a couple of yards away from Tyrone's Cathal McCarron, half-keeping an eye on him, wondering how he got from there to here.

'There' being the low point he found himself in early 2014, willingly starving himself or stealing food so that every penny he had could go on gambling, and his part in a gay pornographic film for £3,000 cash. 'Here' being a hot day in Clones, his third Ulster sfc medal, once again an integral figure with Tyrone, hugging Mickey Harte at the final whistle, thanking him for everything.

But he called me over. We worked together for a while on Gaelic Life; me as editor, he as an ebullient salesman. We talked for a little while, and then he said he had to go over to see his mother.

In his autobiography 'Out of Control', released this week, there is a picture of him with his mother and girlfriend Niamh taken shortly after our chat. Everyone looks happy, but his mother is gazing directly at her son, with a look of pride. Which is remarkable when you consider the life that McCarron gave everyone around him as a hopelessly dysfunctional and degenerate gambler.

Here's the thing though - he does not spare himself. Stories that have been passed around in GAA circles that I thought were just too far-fetched, he gives full disclosure. Like the time he forged a cancer symbol and went door to door collecting for a charity skydive, the proceeds of which he gambled.

Or the time he was caught in the act of stealing from one of his best friends, when he knew that friend was away playing a game for a neighbouring club. And the IRA threat to get out of Dromore.

And of his time vaulting the Tube barriers because he wasn't prepared to part with his money. And of not wanting to pay 50p for chewing gum to kill the rotten stench of his breath from not eating or drinking. And sausages and beans for Christmas dinner, holed up in a London flat, all alone with nobody to talk to.

There was a time when sports books were simply sports books, a harmless dash through the playing days of some retiring star. But of late, the American sportswriting influence has come in. The best books tell you about places and people, sport is merely the hook. There have been 'sports' books that have explored the dangers of alcohol, drugs and infidelity.

Given the depths that Tyrone's No 4 sank to, there is a temptation to think that this is the endgame of where sports books can go to. But this is a book about addiction.

For McCarron, the seeds were sown with his mother departing the home. In one of the saddest lines in this book, he notes that they all "just drifted along" in a vortex where love left the equation and bitterness curdled every relationship.

The only language that made an impact was that of hate. That he ended up being a talented footballer possibly saved McCarron from alcohol, but he was ripe for gambling. He hardly helped himself either, and continues to get caught up in recent misadventures.

There will be, and are, serious misgivings about this book. People may ask if the exercise chases after some form of celebrity recognition.

Is it also a bit too early?

In my view, it is. His girlfriend is currently pregnant. He is gaining some hard-fought stability and the idea of increased celebrity has the potential to derail any recovery.

But if it came much later, then perhaps we might have missed another couple of years to the threat of gambling. This account might just save lives.

The book is disturbing - and upsetting, in parts - but it deserves to be judged only by those who read it.

Irish Independent

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