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‘I’m nearly 10 years in recovery and it's only in the last few months that I've paid off all my debt’

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Offaly and Rhode GAA footballer Niall McNamee at Croghan Hill in Offaly during the Extern Problem Gambling Media Day. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Offaly and Rhode GAA footballer Niall McNamee at Croghan Hill in Offaly during the Extern Problem Gambling Media Day. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Offaly and Rhode GAA footballer Niall McNamee at Croghan Hill in Offaly during the Extern Problem Gambling Media Day. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Niall McNamee puts his gambling addiction in the starkest of terms.

He’s almost a decade in recovery, nearly 10 years since he pulled himself out of the darkest pit where everything and everyone came second to a bet.

He’s in a good place now, back enjoying playing with Offaly while busy building the rest of his life. But startlingly, it’s only in the last few months he finally set himself free of the financial burden that came with his addiction.

“The big thing with gambling is that someone could be an alcoholic or a drug addict and obviously physically it’s going to affect them or their health, but oftentimes when they stop and seek help and get recovery financially they’re generally OK and they can live their life and they’re fine.

“But with gambling, what am I, nearly 10 years in recovery and it’s only in the last few months that I’ve paid off all my debt. That’s the reality of it.”

So when he was asked to front Extern’s Problem Gambling campaign which provides support for anyone affected by problem gambling, he had to check himself. He’s both drawn to helping others and determined to move on. It’s shortly after 11am on Wednesday morning when we talk, but already that morning someone has been in touch with concerns about a loved one and their gambling.

In that case, as with all the others who contact him, McNamee will do what he can. He’ll likely sit down for a chat and try to point them in the right direction. Being a public figure who was so frank about his own difficulties means people often reach out to him.

On the advice of counsellors, he’s been open about his battle with addiction from the start. Not long after emerging from five weeks of treatment in early 2012, he went public with his battles.

It was as much to stop the rumour mill whirring as anything else. Simply disappearing while playing county football had set idle tongues wagging. A couple of years later, when he felt on more solid ground, he started to help one or two others and it “snowballed” from there. It can be draining, but in a strange way, it helps to keep him grounded.

“Generally if someone rings me and I’m having a bad day and they need a bit of help and support, that lifts my day. Because if I’m having a bad day in recovery and I talk to somebody who is gambling it reminds me of what it was like when I was gambling.

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“And my worst day in recovery is far better than my best day gambling, if that makes sense. So it’s a bit of an eye-opener for me as well. I do step back and become very grateful for where I’m at at the moment. So I don’t mind it too much.”

He has small cues to help keep him on the right road. McNamee loves watching golf but will often mute the TV or do something else while the ad breaks, often populated by betting companies, are on.

“I switch away from it. For me that is a trigger and these are things I would have learned when I was in treatment. It is not good for me.  

“And while if I watched them it probably wouldn’t make me have a bet, it is planting a seed there where eventually it could get me on a day where I might be feeling a bit weak and vulnerable and then I was back to square one.

“If I was to gamble again, I don’t know if I would stop, I don’t know if I would have the balls to come back and say if I had a relapse and then go back to square one and start all over again.

“To be honest, it just terrifies me the thought of going back and doing it because there are a lot of really good things going on in my life at the moment that I wouldn’t have if I was gambling.”

Amongst those good things is football. He’s 35 now and since coming out of retirement to play for Offaly once more in 2019, he’s determined to wring every drop out of it.

Last year’s campaign was dogged by a concussion injury picked up late in the previous season. At times he can still feel the effects but as long as he has something to offer Offaly, he plans to keep answering the call.

“I’ll stay going as long as I feel I’m adding a bit of value. I won’t outstay my welcome. That could be anything, if that’s just a case of just coming on for five minutes, or not coming on at all but putting an arm around one of the young lads and giving them a bit of advice, that’s fine.

“For the time being, I’m really enjoying it. It’s different for me now as to what it was maybe 10 years ago. Back then, it was just wanting to win, wanting to perform, and not really enjoying it to a point. Winning was the be-all and end-all.

“The last couple of years, it’s been more a case of really enjoying the whole experience of it. Kind of like when I was in first, everything was new and fresh. I’ve kind of taken that perspective the last couple of years as well.

“I know it’s getting near the end so I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can while it’s there.”

Less than 1 percent of people who could benefit from treatment from problem gambling ever seek it. Extern Problem Gambling provides support for anyone affected by problem gambling and offers remote services by fully qualified and accredited addiction counsellors. If you or someone you know needs help with dealing with gambling, you can get help and support now by sending a text to Extern Problem Gambling on 089 241 5401 (ROI) or 07537142265 (NI). For more details, please visit: https://www.problemgambling.ie/


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