Dessie Farrell admits Shane Carthy's plight drove home the importance of GPA's mental health initiative
The wheels for the Gaelic Players Association's 'We Wear More Than Our County Colours' emotional health and well-being campaign had long been in motion when the reality of what they are seeking to address got up close and personal to chief executive Dessie Farrell.
Shane Carthy has been a part of Farrell's life since he first got involved with Dublin development squads at U-14 level.
They shared All-Ireland minor glory together in 2012 and were plotting All-Ireland U-21 success until Carthy began receiving treatment for depression last month.
He missed the All-Ireland semi-final and final, having been voted man of the match in the Leinster decider against Meath.
Farrell, Dublin's U-21 manager, admits it was a "wake-up call" that made him think about everything they have said and done.
Carthy is making good progress with his recovery and yesterday Farrell admitted that the campaign, launched in the presence of GAA president Liam O'Neill on his first visit to the GPA headquarters in Santry, became even more "purposeful" with what developed for his promising midfielder.
"It brought it home in a really stark fashion," said Farrell. "Just to be aware that somebody who you care deeply about and who you've known for a long, long time – one of your players...
"It makes you think about everything and the effect that it can have.
"Things you've been doing or saying, the environment or culture you've established amongst the group. You question a lot of things, primarily on the basis that you can see the turmoil in front of your eyes in a young man's life or the torment that's going on in his head.
"For him to deal with that or suffer in silence with it for so long, it was a bit of a wake-up call, to be fair. It just brought home what we were trying to do here and made it more purposeful.
"And I guarantee you those issues are going on in every dressing-room in the country.
"We've had our own experience within the U-21 group and I know in senior dressing-rooms around the country, there's a lot of this that hasn't emerged," Farrell added.
"It's about talking about this and getting it out in the open before we get to the sad situation like the one we had last year with Niall Donoghue.
"But again, not everyone can express themselves. It's being able to take off the uniform and lower the shield and say: 'I'm a human, too. I have relationship issues', or, 'I'm not in a good place at work at the minute and it's really getting me down'. Whatever it is.
"Rather than allow those things to fester and build, it's about opening up a conversation before it gets that far. Because there are solutions to all these problems."
The theme 'We Wear More Than Our County Colours' relates to the fact that behind the often high-profile public persona of a county player, the individual is frequently vulnerable to emotional distress.
The campaign features Michael Murphy (Donegal), Padraig Brehony (Galway), Seamus Hennessy (Tipperary), Alan O'Mara (Cavan), Padraig Collins (Clare), Conal Keaney (Dublin), Richie Hogan (Kilkenny), Colm Begley (Laois), Eoin Cadogan (Cork), Rob Hennelly (Mayo), Jonny Cooper (Dublin), Ciaran McKeever (Armagh), Lee Chin (Wexford), Niall McNamee (Offaly) and is being driven by, among others, Conor Cusack, the former Cork hurler who himself has recovered from depression.
Cusack delivered a powerful address to the launch, stressing the need to get the message across for "warrior" Gaelic footballers and hurlers to express themselves.
"I think it's really powerful that our inter-county footballers and hurlers, who in many ways are seen as the ultimate warriors in our country in terms of the sport that they play, also have challenges and difficulties with their own hearts and minds that people may not be aware of, that they can deal with those things and emerge from them stronger and more rounded people."
The campaign, he said, will also be pitched at former inter-county players.
"I know a lot of ex-inter-county guys who have accessed the service and have come back to me and have been genuinely blown away by the service that is here and they have a lot of regrets that the service wasn't there in the past for some of their friends who sadly have gone to their early graves.
"You would be amazed the amount of former players who are experiencing real difficulties. There is a huge void in their lives because their sport is gone, their adoration is gone and they are asking themsleves the question, 'if I am not the inter-county footballer or hurler, who am I?'."
* For further information visit www.wewearmore.ie