Wednesday 16 January 2019

Jockey rebuilds his career after splurging €1m on drink, drugs and women

Paddy Merrigan
Paddy Merrigan
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

It was some time in 2007 when Paddy Merrigan drove a brand new €100,000 BMW to Birmingham airport in the UK and only remembered to collect it three months later when a sizeable parking fee bill landed on his desk.

It was to be the talented jockey's epiphany moment but so turbulent and chaotic was his life that this was just another barstool story in a life filled with them - but he has now committed himself to the cause of helping those suffering mental health problems.

He admits his life has been peppered with intermittent bouts of an "insane lifestyle" - drink, drugs, women. All at a cost of close to €1m and a rollercoaster ride that left him sitting in a room in a mental health facility in Roscommon.

"This is not the place for you. You don't need to be tied to a bed and drugged," he was told, but that did not halt the spiralling madness that so often took over his life.

Madness that saw him spend a week at the Galway Races in the same suit and white shirt, a shirt that was "yellow" by the final day. Madness that saw him become a "sh*t dad".

But something changed about two-and-a-half years ago and now he is back and eyeing a "good eight years" as a top jockey.

Merrigan is a modern-day trailblazer looking for another shot at redemption after the chaos of his life.

"The minute I got off the boat in England my career took off very quick.

"I had lots of money and lots of sponsorship deals," Merrigan told Will Faulkner of Midlands Radio in a powerful interview.

"Social scene was insane. I was very wild. I was a very emotional jockey and I always craved something bigger than I have today.

"When I finished racing I began drinking very heavy. When I became successful, lots of things came my way. I was wild. I would meet up with lots of girls in the racing industry."

Merrigan continued: "People say 'Paddy gave up because he was drinking and taking drugs' but that's all bullsh*t. Paddy Merrigan gave up horse racing because I was too passionate for my own good.

"As I explained to a fella before, I have the greatest mother in the world.

"I said if you lined that horse up against a wall with my mother and told me to shoot one of them, my mother would have been dead that day and my mother is the most important person to me on the planet

"When I was told I was not riding I thought it was a prank. I got in my car and went from Kempton race course to Birmingham.

"I drove that car 150mph straight to the short stay car park, threw it in and said 'get me the first flight out of here'. I left the car there for a few months or whatever."

"I was riding out and going hunting a lot [in Athlone]," said the 32-year-old.

"I was enjoying that but I would be there a few days showing horses to sales people and I would be gone three days later partying with women and blowing money, living an insane lifestyle. Down the line I started drinking a lot. Since I gave up racing I would say I definitely, between everything, I could have blown nearly a million pound."

It wasn't until he was confronted by a friend who asked him to be best man at his wedding that he broke down and came clean for the first time.

For the first time, Merrigan had some sort of plan on how to tackle his problems. His friend Michael and his wife took him to Roscommon Hospital - "an eye-opener".

He ultimately went on to set up a business selling horses in Northern Ireland, but met another woman and went on to have another daughter.

Merrigan separated from from his ex-partner and it dawned on Merrigan that only one drug could save him and that was racing.

A friend took him to America and he got in touch with a personal trainer to put his life in order. "I am 32 and have eight good years left racing again," he said.

The weight is shifting and the drink and drugs have been replaced by that burning passion for horse racing, one that had deserted him an caused so much misery.

Merrigan admitted: "Now is the right time for me to go and inspire this nation about mental health."

The full interview can be heard on Paddy's new blog about mental health at Mad Merrigan on Facebook.

Irish Independent

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