Wednesday 23 May 2018

'I was embarrassed by my brother' - GAA star Philly McMahon gets personal about Dublin's drug overhaul

Dublin footballer Philly McMahon talks about the new national drugs strategy. Photo: Tom Burke
Dublin footballer Philly McMahon talks about the new national drugs strategy. Photo: Tom Burke

Ryan Nugent

Dublin GAA star Philly McMahon has called for a complete overhaul of the Government's drug strategy and said he's "100 percent" in favour of supervised injection centres.

The All-Star defender has suffered at the hands of drug abuse after his brother John, a heroin addict, died in 2012.

Since John's death - four years ago today - the footballer has put his weight behind helping others in similar situations.

McMahon has called for a decriminalisation of drugs and is in the process of setting up a charity called Half Time Talk, which will motivate young adults who have social problems and low self-esteem to believe that they deserve to live a normal life.

He compared Ireland's fight against drug addiction to Dublin's All-Ireland semi-final first half against Kerry, where they went in five points down.


"Today our opponent is drugs, we've lost the first half, we all need to have a half-time talk," McMahon said.

"If there's something I've learned from playing sport at the highest level, it is that one chink in the armour and it all falls apart.

"The disconnect from communities, government, voluntary sectors and family networks is constantly growing and will continue to grow if the government persist in cutting funding from the organisations involved in working to combat the drugs problem.

"If there's people taking drugs on the streets then people are going to feel threatened. I'd be 100pc for it (injection centres) because there are people that are dying on the streets every day because there's no monitoring process. The fact is, if they get a needle exchange clinic or monitoring process in a needle exchange clinic, it means then it's a safer option and gives the addict a better chance.

"If we don't change the drugs issue from crime to health, then we're always going to have that stigma," he added.

The stigma the Dublin star is referring to is one that labels addicts as the lowest of the low - and one which makes it an embarrassment to associate yourself with.

He said the stigma was so powerful while growing up in Ballymun that he tried to avoid associating himself with his brother.

"I grew up in Ballymun, which is a wonderful, proud community that has shaped the person I am today," McMahon said.

"For a large part of my life I was shadowed by a stigma which encouraged the perception that drug addicts are the lowest of the low in society and that they should be banished.

"I grew up constantly trying to hide my dirty secret of having a brother that was a drug addict.

"I believed that tough love was the way to deal with this stigma. I was embarrassed by him, so ignored him on the streets and never invited him to special events in case he showed me up," McMahon said.

The GAA provided an outlet for the young would-be All-Star to steer clear of a drug scene that was taking over the area.

"I was very involved in sports from a young age and this involvement has certainly helped me to steer away from the temptation and peer pressure to experiment with drugs," he said.

"Unfortunately, my brother John was not so lucky."

McMahon and his family tried to help John and moved him to a different environment.

"John became drugs-free for a period of time in London, but struggled to disconnect from other addicts. This connection in time ultimately pushed him back on to drugs.

"This was one of the biggest learning experiences for me and made me realise that the societal hooks can be more detrimental than the chemical ones for drug addicts.

"John always told me how proud he was of me becoming a Dublin player and I hope to continue to make him proud in the fight against drugs," McMahon added.

McMahon was on hand yesterday to launch a public consultation on the new national drugs strategy, which will be seeking people's views for the next six weeks.


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