Thursday 19 September 2019

'He saved my life' - Former Kerry GAA star nominated for People of the Year ‘Everyday Hero’ award

Aodán Mac Gearailt and his former student Hannah Hennessey
Aodán Mac Gearailt and his former student Hannah Hennessey

Cormac Byrne

All-Ireland winning Kerry footballer Aodán Mac Gearailt has been nominated for the People of the Year ‘Everyday Hero’ by a student who he helped cope with depression during her schooldays.

The 36-year-old An Ghaeltacht clubman is the principal at Meán Scoil Nua an Leith Triúigh secondary school in Castlegregory, Co Kerry.

A former student, Hannah Hennessey, has nominated Aodán for the prestigious award for the support he showed her as she battled with depression during her teenage years.

Writing on, Hannah described how her illness was impacting on her life before she met Aodán.

"I was broken from depression. As far as I was concerned my mental illness had won and there was no going back or forward for that matter. I had my parent’s hearts broken," she wrote

"I used to make plans with my friends then blow them off at the last minute because I couldn’t face them. I stopped doing what I loved. My love for GAA was as strong as ever but I couldn’t bring myself to play with my club anymore, I believed I wasn’t good enough. I’d spend all day in bed if I could and wouldn’t sleep a wink at night. I felt and looked like a walking zombie.

"I wasn’t sleeping, I was constantly crying for no known reason, not wanting to breathe anymore and wanting nothing but total isolation when I was at home and in school. I hated the person I had become and prayed that I would open my eyes someday and be back to normal."

Hannah described the positive impact her principal had from there very very first meeting onwards.

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"That first day of meeting him, Aodán told me he was there for me, he told me I could go to him anytime to talk to. I didn’t know what to make of this as my previous principal never acknowledged my obvious struggle despite being in a school of only 120 pupils," he added.

"I was overwhelmed by Aodán’s support from there on in. He would check on me daily, his office door was always open for me to go in.  No matter how busy he was, he always made time for me. On the days when I was thrown on a seat in the corner by his office crying for no reason or not able to talk or stay in class, he was there with a cup of tea.

"A few months into transition year I was put into hospital in Cork for over 3 months.  Aodán would often call the hospital to chat with me and see how I was.  He went way above and beyond his call of duty as a principal.  He got me back playing my football with the school team and helped me all the way. 

"For the three years I remained in school he was my hero, he inspired me to keep going and not to give up on the days I thought I would. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this nor would I have finished school. He kept me in school when I had myself and my parents convinced I had to leave. The support he gave me made it all bearable.

"I never had anyone to talk to, I didn’t like talking to my family or friends as I always felt like a burden. Aodán never once made me think I was a burden to him. He was always so supportive to all his students making time for everyone.

"I can never thank Aodán enough for what he has done for me since I first met him. He saved my life. I can never, ever repay him for this as much as I want to. He got me to express myself by writing my thoughts down and talking more.  He met with my psychiatrist to find out how best to support me when I was in 6th year."

The People of the Year Awards TV programme will be aired on RTE One on Saturday, December 5.

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