'I walked out of dressing room and started crying' - Shamrock Rovers star opens up on depression battle
Mikey Drennan is putting his professional football career with Shamrock Rovers on hold as he bids to battle illness which has turned his life upside down in recent years.
The Kilkenny striker has been absent from the Rovers squad for recent League of Ireland ties and eyebrows were raised when he appeared on the hurling fields for his native James Stephens on Sunday.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Independent, the 22-year-old outlines how depression has led him to a "very dark" place, and how the situation finally boiled over after their 4-0 win against Bohemians last month.
The former Ireland U-21 international has now returned home to Kilkenny to seek employment and get his life back on track.
"It all came to a head after the Bohs game. I thought that was the final straw because we won 4-0 and I obviously played," he said.
"After the game, I tried to celebrate with the rest of players but I just couldn't. I had to walk out of the changing room and just started crying. That's when I knew."
Drennan is aware it's a long journey ahead, and is unsure of whether he will make a return to Rovers or football in general, but he's happy to be in familiar surroundings.
"I feel better that I'm home, back around people that I love and that are looking after me and being there for me. I feel better now but there's still a long way to go to get better," he says.
"I could go back to League of Ireland in January if I feel right, or I might never want to go back. But everyone at Rovers were a great help and I'd like to thank the club, the fans and all the players for all the help.
"People don't know why I left Rovers and gave up soccer, for now, and I want to get the story out like why instead of people making up their own stories.
"It's out there now and hopefully people will realise why I've made the decision and understand."
His honesty is remarkable. Drennan has watched the walls of his soccer career, and his life, come falling down but his openness is a powerful reminder that the dream of playing as a professional in England is often not all it's cracked up to be.
All many see is the money, fame and social status, but what goes on outside the white lines can be more demanding than anything on the pitch.
Drennan soon came to this realisation when he left the hurling hotbed of St Kieran's College in Kilkenny during Transition Year, aged 16, for greener pastures and the lure of the Premier League with Aston Villa.
It wasn't what he expected and, while he prospered on the pitch - he was second top scorer in the NextGen Series (Youths Champions League) when Villa won the competition in 2013 - he was capitulating off it.
"You went there (Villa) and there was no support - I used to go back and close the curtains and get into bed after training," the 22-year-old says.
"That was about 2.0 and the sun could be splitting the stones. You have way too much time to think. You need to keep yourself busy. If I had known that before I went over, I would have done a bit more college work and stuff for my education."
Instead, like so many before him he got sucked into gambling and the 'high' of the bookies. Being anonymous in a mass of punters was a temporary release from the 'low' he was experiencing the majority of the time.
"I was into gambling. That was a bad thing I was into - I was into all that stuff. You look for anything to pass time and the only thing you could do was go to the bookies and it's not a nice thing," he explains.
"You get such a high when you're down on such a low and it's not nice. Luckily enough I'm not like that any more. I'd have one or two bets but that's about it.
"Over there that's all you did. I used to go back, f**king watch telly for the whole day sitting in a black room.
"I didn't realise at the time what was actually going on. It messes your head up."
After leaving home in his teens, the talented striker suffered severe bouts of "homesickness" and regularly had to be dragged back to England. It was something that became the norm.
And even when he returned to Ireland to play with Shamrock Rovers, he thought his symptoms would improve, but he was only delaying the inevitable.
"I left when I was 16, I was really homesick and that, it wasn't nice but I'm not really sure what brought it on. There could be so many things that brought it on but it wasn't a nice place to be in," Drennan says.
"I used to hate it, I used to dread going back to England. One summer I was close to not going back.
"I don't really have any regrets about what I've done, but if I look back on it I probably would've done things a little differently if that makes sense.
"I was living in an apartment on my own (in Dublin), which probably didn't help, but I like my own space, that kind of way. I don't think it was a good time, but it's not that it started at Rovers. It began when I was over in England and it just carried on. It didn't really get any better - it probably got worse if anything."
Keith Fahey was support to Drennan
He sought counsel from Keith Fahey, and he admits that without Rovers team-mate Brandon Miele, and immense support from the club, he would have packed his bags and gone back to the Marble city a long time ago.
"I spoke to Keith a few times now and it's been good hearing it from different sides," he says.
"The Rovers players didn't really know but I knew Brandon before I went there and he really helped me. If he wasn't there from the start, I don't think I would've probably lasted this long.
"He was really good to me but it all came to a head after the Bohs game. That was the final straw. We won 4-0. that was a great result and afterwards I tried to celebrate with the other players but I just couldn't.
"I had to walk out of the changing-room and just started crying. I think that's when I knew.
"I think it was just everything building up and not getting the help I need and all that. It wasn't a nice time but I've had ups and downs but I must say. Rovers have been really good to me and it's important that you do talk to people.
"It's not good when you don't. I kept it in and tried to deal with it myself and it's not a smart thing to do. You need to talk to people and obviously there's help everywhere."
By telling his story, Drennan has made the first step on the "long journey" to recovery but he's already on the job hunt and "back to reality". The home comforts of friends, family and hurling are central to the voyage.
Former Hurler of the Year Eoin Larkin tweeted his approval when the former Féile na nGael winner scored 3-3 in a cameo with the James Stephens Junior 'B' side last Sunday and he will see where his hurling return takes him.
"You never know what's going to happen. My main aim for this year is to get into the James Stephens senior set-up and obviously get myself better. I'll try and see if I can push and better myself and see if I can get on the Kilkenny team if that's possible," he says.
"There's a long way to go and the main is that I get myself right, that's definitely the main thing."