Wednesday 21 February 2018

Paul Kimmage: Contempt or compassion - why do we treat Cathal McCarron so differently to Paul McGrath?

Understanding shown to Paul McGrath is in stark contrast with how McCarron was treated

Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

"As the alcohol hit, I wouldn't have any qualms about what I was doing. It'd be a case of 'I don't feel so good at the moment and this is what's going to help me get back on an even keel…"

"The more I drank, the less I felt a need to explain. Eventually, my attitude would be 'I don't give a toss. No disrespect, it's got nothing to do with you.' This is just what I do when I'm in this sort of humour. If it offends you, too bad . . . "  - Paul McGrath 'Back from the Brink'

Ten years have passed since 'Back from the Brink' - the superb collaboration between Paul McGrath and Vincent Hogan - was awarded the William Hill Irish Sports Book of the Year' I dusted it down last week and scanned the chapters, curious that I might have missed something: the prologue . . . his Mother . . . the orphanage . . . Dalkey United . . . the Black Pearl of Inchicore . . . Billy Behan . . . Manchester United . . . ahh, here we go…

December, 1987: that is indeed his car, planted in a garden in the Manchester suburb of Hale on a winter's afternoon. And that is indeed Paul McGrath, blood spurting from his head, sitting drunk at the wheel. And that is indeed Alex Ferguson, reading him the riot act when he returns to training: "What if someone's child was walking along there?"

April, 1993: His taste for booze is making headlines but not his taste for women. He has been married to Claire for nine years and they have three boys. He cheated on her during his time at Manchester United. He cheats on her again when he moves to Aston Villa.

Read more: Paul Kimmage meets Cathal McCarron: 'Until I go to the grave, I will be battling this disease'

One afternoon when he's in Birmingham, a girlfriend phones and informs him she has borne his daughter. He drives home and tells Claire that the story is about to hit the papers. She takes an overdose and ends up in The Priory. It's the end of their marriage but Paul has already found someone else.

June, 2002: He has been married to Caroline for eight years. She's travelling to Orlando with their two boys for a holiday. He's travelling to the World Cup finals in Japan to work for the BBC. On the evening of the first game, she calls her father in Liverpool: "How was he dad? How did he do?" "I'm sorry love," her father replies. "I don't know how to tell you this."

McGrath has hit the bottle again. The BBC have annulled his contract and put him on a flight to London. He leaves his suitcase on the carousel at Heathrow. He can't face Caroline. Nobody can find him. He takes a train and boat to Ireland, meets a girl and flies to Marbella. There's hell to pay when he eventually sobers up and returns home.

One night, in a fit of anger, he lifts Caroline from the bed and pins her to the wall. She calls the police. The marriage is done. Soon after, desperate for a drink, he rifles every cupboard in the house and finds a bottle of Domestos. He fills a pint glass, lowers it down and walks calmly up the stairs to bed.

This is how he describes what happened next: "My chest was absolutely on fire. It was as if somebody was running a hot iron from one armpit to the other. And I'm lying there, thinking 'This time you've done it. This one's going to kill you. You're now in the process of melting your insides.'"

So it's all there: the destruction, the deception, the violence, the lies, the complete and utter mayhem of a life ravaged by addiction.

Paul McGrath’s ‘Back from the Brink’ and Cathal McCarron’s ‘Out of Control’ are both stories of addiction and betrayal, but each provokes very a different reaction Picture: Sportsfile
Paul McGrath’s ‘Back from the Brink’ and Cathal McCarron’s ‘Out of Control’ are both stories of addiction and betrayal, but each provokes very a different reaction Picture: Sportsfile

"Ooh Ahh."

Do we feel contempt for Paul McGrath? No, we feel compassion. Have we held Paul McGrath to account? No, we understand. So I'm obviously missing something here:

Where's the empathy for Cathal McCarron?

Three weeks have passed since his extraordinary book, 'Out of Control', was published and the response has been, well, extraordinary. The Late Late Show - champions of Katie Hopkins - invited him on and then dropped him. He was savaged in his first interview on Today FM and has been ignored by RTE. Two former players - columnists at The Irish News - dismissed the book without reading it.

Maybe ignorance is bliss?

McCarron's story - brilliantly scripted by Christy O'Connor - is a compelling read. Despair, fear and self-loathing seep from every chapter and there are hints of 'The Butcher Boy' and 'The Grass Arena' as he battles his demons.

The nature of addiction: "The closest thing to gambling addiction is heroin. The opioid going into my body was money, endless streams of cash providing me with the same euphoric effects that heroin gives to junkies."

The effect it had: "As my gambling became more corrosive, so did my worth as a person. I had no respect for anyone. I was a conniving sneaky bastard . . . My moral compass extended so far it was bipolar. On the field, I'd die for the guy beside me. Once we both stepped outside those four white lines, I'd have sold him out for a few pounds that I could gamble with."

The violence that shaped him: "The club culture in Tyrone is rife with hatred, sheer venomous hatred. The Tyrone Senior championship is probably the most physical and draining in Ireland. Only one Tyrone club - Errigal Ciaran - has won an Ulster club title, but that's more down to the conditions than the standard. With everyone beating the fuck out of each other, the county champions are often hardly able to walk by the time the provincial championship comes around."

The moment that has defined him: "When it was over, the guy I had just had sex with asked me how I had found the whole experience. 'Do you want the truth?' I asked him. 'Fucking disgusting.' He sniggered. I walked straight past him. I just wanted to shower and get home. As I was standing under the water I felt filthy. Stained. Soiled. Polluted. Defiled. And, deep down, I knew all the water in the Atlantic Ocean couldn't remove those stains on my soul."

'Out of Control' is a book that challenges constantly:

"You hero."

"You idiot."

"Well done."

"You prick."

. . . and is not an easy read. McCarron cheats on the women who love him, steals from his parents and betrays his friends. But you have to cheer for a man who finds himself in the darkest place imaginable and finds the courage and strength to fight back again.

And is he really that different to McGrath? Okay, so he will never reach the heights of Giants Stadium, or be celebrated as an all-time great, but think about what it took for him to play for Tyrone again? Would you rather sleep with a man or drink a pint of Domestos? They have both been afflicted by a terrible thing, and will fight that thing to the grave.

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