'Depression has been an issue for all of my career' - Former Ireland midfielder eyes comeback
He was only 27-years-old but Keith Treacy was ready to walk away from football. And not for the first time.
A career which saw him achieve those twin aims of playing in the English Premier League and playing for his country at senior level, including an appearance against Lionel Messi’s Argentina, had ground to a halt.
Last summer, half-way through the season with St Patrick’s Athletic, personal problems infected their way into his playing career and Treacy told the club that he wasn’t in a position to play any more.
“I thought about packing it in, not for the first time,” Treacy says. “There was a personal issue, a family matter that I don’t want to go into here, I wanted to walk away.”
The outlook now is a lot brighter. He has stayed in contact with Liam Buckley, his manager at St Pat’s and has nothing but praise for the patience which Buckley has shown. Treacy, now 28, could even be back with the Saints.
“Liam has been brilliant with me, he rings me to see how I am. He’s not ringing me as my manager, he’s ringing me as a friend. Pat’s as a club have been great with me. I am leaning towards going back there, if you’d asked me that two months ago I didn’t even see myself playing football again. But now, I would like to get back,” he admits.
“I dodged Liam’s calls for a while as I didn’t want to talk to him. I just avoided everything, that’s what I do when I get depressed, turn the phone off and ignore things. But my missus forced me to speak to Liam as I owed him.”
Because Treacy is only now realising how much depression had become part of his career, his life. As Dublin bustles with activity, Treacy sits down to talk in a city-centre hotel. His words should be taken on board by young players, their parents, agents and coaches. Highs and lows, successes and pitfalls, glory and grime.
“There is a lot of depression within the game,” says Treacy, who joined Blackburn Rovers from Belvedere and made his Premier League debut while still in his teens.
“I am only now seeing that depression has been an issue for all of my career, I am only old enough now to see that I was depressed all throughout my career. I just didn’t realise it. I have been seeing a therapist for a while now and that’s a big help.
“I would wake up and not want to go to work but I thought everyone was like that, even the fact that I was calling it ‘work’ used to make my da laugh.
“It was a job but I was sour about things. Looking back I was depressed, I never enjoyed going to work and half-way through last season, with Pat’s, I felt the same, when I had a bit of bad news, it knocked me back mentally. It was a succession of things, I was mentally weak and prone to depression.”
Making the transition to where he had been (playing in the Premier League at Old Trafford in front of 75,000 fans, playing for Ireland against Argentina and Uruguay) to where he now found himself was not easy.
“It’s a big change, from playing in England at a high level, earning such high levels of money, to coming home to play in Ireland. I am delighted to have my family but there is a void there in the football. No disrespect, but you’re playing Wexford Youths on a Friday night and there are six people in the crowd, it’s hard to get motivated,” he says.
“One week you’re playing in Minsk in the Europa League, a big game but a week later it’s Wexford Youths and people couldn’t care less. It’s a big case of ups and downs, I have always struggled with the highs and the lows in the game.
“At Pat’s, I’d come away at the end of the game and whether we’d won or lost I didn’t get emotionally involved. I’d blame the pitch or say the team weren’t great or there was no crowd there.
“I’d get annoyed that I wasn’t involved emotionally in the game. It’s a vicious circle, you’re annoyed because you’re not involved but you don’t want to be involved, it goes round and around in your head and it eats you up. It’s a hard thing to do but when you get the right help, as I am doing now, it’s better.”
Treacy can draw a line back to where his career started, when he left home to go to England. Too much, too young, he now admits, seeing the folly of buying an apartment at the age of 17. “The two receptionists at the club bought my curtains for me, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he admits.
“I was only a snotty-nosed kid from Sheriff Street coming over to the English Premier League and you have all this money, they were building houses and I just thought I’d buy one.
“The bonuses in the Premier League were crazy, at Blackburn you got £1000 a point, so if we won I’d get three grand, on top of your wages. It was ridiculous.
“When I was out injured or not in the team, you don’t know what to do with yourself. This is why a lot of footballers lean towards gambling and drinking a lot more, you have all this money but nothing to do with it. If you are like me, you just end up getting yourself in trouble.”
Thirteen years after he quit school, Treacy now has another view. “I went at 15 having done the Junior Cert -I have no idea what results I got. If I walked away from football now, I am literally a 15-year-old with very few social skills, not a lot of education,” he adds, taking in his surroundings.
“If I walked into this hotel and asked for a job, they’d ask what experience I have, all I can say is that I am a footballer and that’s no use to them.
“If I was to speak to a younger player now I would say get your education - but school was always a nightmare for me. Celtic offered me a contract at 13, I knew I was going away at 15 so school was of no interest to me. I was going to be the best player in the world, I was going to be a millionaire, I was going to have it all.
“It’s the right call to stay in school, get your Leaving Cert and go to England then. But I know what it’s like, you’re 14 and you have scouts and managers knocking on your door.”
He looks around the St Pat’s dressing room. “I love Jamie McGrath, he is the opposite to what I was like as a kid, he has all the talent in the world but the difference is that he listens. It’s not that I didn’t listen but I’d always go off and do what I wanted to do anyway,” says Treacy. “I can see myself starting to come around, I don’t usually watch football but I watched Celtic-Barcelona the other night and enjoyed it, it’s starting to come back for me."