Sunday 10 December 2017

Donegal's Magee reveals battles with anxiety and alcohol

McGee admits that he was “renowned more as a partier than a footballer” for a period during the 2000s. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile
McGee admits that he was “renowned more as a partier than a footballer” for a period during the 2000s. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland winner Eamon McGee has opened up on his former struggles with anxiety, panic attacks and alcohol.

McGee, who announced his inter-county retirement last year, was speaking with former Cavan goalkeeper Alan O'Mara on the latest Real Talks podcast.

McGee admits that he was "renowned more as a partier than a footballer" for a period during the 2000s.

He made his Donegal senior debut in '04 but found it difficult to adapt to life as an inter-county footballer, explaining: "I think it was apparent that I struggled off the field and, as a result of that, I struggled on the field, too.

"For me, it was just culture at the time. The lads all enjoyed the pints, didn't take things too seriously.

"It suited me but none of the lads suffered from anxiety attacks or panic attacks or they didn't develop a dangerous relationship with alcohol.

"That was part of what happened to me. All them lads grew out of that, I never grew out of that phase then.

"A big enough social scene was a big part of it and unfortunately, I had other things going on in the background, too. It was just a bad combination. It wasn't conducive to an elite athlete.

"For me, buses was a big one. I'm sitting on the bus sweating, on the way to college. You don't want anyone else to know. You're jittery, it was a wild struggle to hide it. You're thinking you're going to die here, you're going to have a heart attack on a bus. It's tight stuff."

McGee also reveals how he was "sceptical" about Jim McGuinness, following the All-Ireland-winning manager's appointment in 2010.

The defender explains how he went drinking after meeting McGuinness first, and was then dropped.

He said: "When came in initially, he's on about winning All-Irelands. I was very sceptical of him, he dropped me from the panel for the first few months because from my initial meeting with him, I says 'Jesus, I'm away for a few pints here'. He got word of it, he said, 'I don't like this, this is the old Donegal, this isn't the Donegal I want to be part of'.

"He dropped me, thankfully he asked me back but the Donegal team, pre-Jim, and the Donegal team I ended up with, they're two totally different animals. Night and day, polar opposites."

Last August, McGee called time on an inter-county career that spanned 13 years and admits that he struggled to fill the void for a period after that.

He reflects: "Life's good now. When I retired, I probably didn't really know the massive decision I'd made. It wasn't until about two or three months afterwards, I went through a downer, whatever you want to call it.

"I was in bad form, I struggled with that whole identity as a Gaelic footballer and an athlete. I think that happens to everybody. Some people have the tools to deal with it better than others. I'm in a far better spot (now)."

McGee also speaks about the adjustment to life after inter-county football.

"Small things, you're paying for your gym membership. It was the first time in 15 years I had to pay for a pair of shorts."

At the end of that difficult spell following his retirement, McGee freely admits that "I was a nightmare to live with."

He added: "From an early stage of my career, I struggled in terms of the mental health side of it. I made a lot of wrong decisions.

"I thought I had come through that but I could see old behaviours coming back. I had to go back to the tools that I had acquired during that time and try to work my way out of it. But for two months I did nothing, I didn't fill the void, I've already filled it with old habits, bad habits.

"I probably reverted back to… not completely… but parts of me, old behaviours creeping up.

"Joanne (his partner) had to pull me up and said 'listen, you go back and do something in the gym' or 'you get back and do what got you into good form in the first place'.

"You have to try and fill that void but me being me, I didn't listen to her at the start. I knew it all. The form got bad, I had to try and get a more balanced lifestyle here. I got back to using those tools I had acquired."

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