But for a text message from his brother, Davy Glennon may have lost his life to the gambling addiction that consumed every part of his being.
The Galway hurler’s compelling story is as frightening as it is redemptive writes John Fogarty.
It’s March 10, 2015. Cheltenham. Mares’ Hurdle. Ruby Walsh and his 4/7 favourite fall at the last to save bookmakers an estimated £40 million.
In a Loughrea betting office, Davy Glennon watches his bet go up in smoke. He stood to make €58,000 had she completed the Walsh/Willie Mullins four-timer.
Instead, he is €2,000 the poorer.
He now knows that €58,000 would have been gone in a matter of weeks. He describes it as “only a loan to give back to the bookies”.
At the time, the €2,000 was relatively small change to him. The previous week, he had disappeared €10,000 in the space of three days.
“I got a loan out from a credit union on a Wednesday. I had a loan from them previously going back years. It was direct debit and then I got a phonecall to say my loan was nearly finished and that my finances with them were good and that anytime again if you wanted a loan we were there to help.
“This was on a Monday. I said to myself: ‘What? More ammunition?’ At the back of my head: I said, ‘No, I can’t? I’m going to gamble this. What did I want the money for?’
“I said to the credit union it was for a car. So I went into them of a Wednesday and I said, ‘I’m looking for a loan’. They said, ‘How much are you looking for?’ And I was thinking €5,000 but then I got greedy and said €10,000. ‘Would you like the money in a cheque or in cash?’ they asked. I said: “Cash.”
“I couldn’t believe my eyes, being given this handy money. So I took the €10,000 out of a Wednesday and by the Friday the money was gone.”
Four years earlier, a 20-year-old Glennon had sold his first car, a seven-year-old Audi A4, for a measly €4,000. The buyer, a man from Sligo, couldn’t believe his luck. Glennon still had a loan on the vehicle but all he wanted was fuel for his habit.
“I was coming out of Tuam and said I’d go into Paddy Power with this money in my pocket. I went in and an hour later it was gone. To be honest, I was so ate by gambling that I really didn’t blink an eyelid. I just thought that was it; it was Monopoly money for me at the time.”
Hurling and gambling. Gambling and hurling. From the age of 16, Davy Glennon knew nothing more. Over the years, the hurling field became a haven for him from his addiction but the status he had earned as an underage hurler of note, as a man who rose to the occasion when Galway needed it most, also blinded him from his ailment.
The more his star rose, the more deluded he became.
“As a county hurler, you think you know more than a Joe Soap. Then pride gets in the way. I won a minor with Galway in 2009, got man of the match. The world was my oyster then. I was going places. You kind of get ahead of yourself. I kind of always knew at the back of my mind that I had a problem but I was in denial. I was too proud to say it to anyone. The pride was getting in the way as well because you thought you were someone but at the end of the day you’re not; you’re only one person.
“I went along then and played with the U21s. I was only coming on as a sub in 2010. In 2011, we won the All-Ireland U21 and I got man of the match again in the final. Things were rolling and you’re an icon at home and in the public eye and that’s when I found the pressure coming on.”
When he won the free that his old housemate Joe Canning slotted over to earn Galway a replay in the 2012 All-Ireland SHC final, he had once again proven he was a man who could be called on at a time of trouble. Only nobody was there for him in his hour of need. Not because they didn’t want to; he just wouldn’t allow it.
“We got to the All-Ireland final, won the free, the hype was around and it got me through another few months, the adrenalin. I was just hanging in by a thread. Hurling and sport is great in one way but in another it kind of held me back, the bit of pride and that, from actually trying to go and get help because of who I was and the talk there would be around club and county.
“I was embarrassed. I was in so deep I couldn’t really get out. I had nowhere to turn, nowhere to look. Who could I tell?”
Glennon was never one for online betting. There was material evidence of all his transactions. And it was always horses and dogs.
“I never did anything in terms of other sports because I never trusted them. I could stay eight or nine hours in a bookies without eating. My diet was gone. An inter-county man, what I was doing went totally against the grain.”
Gambling brought out the worst in him in every aspect. While making headlines at the back of newspapers, he was also making them at the front for a couple of assault charges.
“Addiction takes over your life and I don’t think it was me. It ate me. It had me a totally different person. I was living two lives. I was living the life that everybody wanted to see and I was living my own life. Addiction brings you down and changes you. I didn’t care about anyone. I didn’t care about myself.”
Glennon is emotional when he admits his gambling forced his parents to seek counselling themselves. They attempted to stage an intervention when they organised a meeting with reformed gambler and former Armagh star Oisín McConville in Dublin but Glennon only agreed to see him to plamás them.
Canning noticed all wasn’t well with his friend but Glennon always put a barrier between them. “We were living in Oranmore and he knew to an extent. He was a great help to me, he was on my back, but when you’re in denial you’d nearly fall out with a guy about it because he’d be onto you the whole time asking if you were alright and saying ‘come with me to a match’. I’d be holding back, saying I had to do something at home because all you wanted to do was go to the bookies.
“Other team-mates were on my back but you were pushing them away. You didn’t want them anywhere near you. Then they’re asking if you’re gambling and saying they or somebody else saw you in the bookies and you’re saying ‘that wasn’t me – what’s that got to do with you?’
“Then you lose your friends. I nearly lost my friends. When you lost respect for yourself, it’s very hard to call it a life.”
All the time, Glennon was reconciling with himself that he could deal with it. At the same time, part of him knew things would come to a head. They did on July 5 last year when he lasted just 27 minutes in the Leinster final.
“We had played Laois in the semi-final. I didn’t start because I had an injury from the quarter-final against Dublin. I came on and scored 1-2. All that week before, I was in the bookies all week. I was ate, I hadn’t a penny. I hadn’t the price of diesel to get home, 10 kilometres out of town.
“I was at breaking point at the time but the 1-2, the bit of hurling I was playing, was covering over the cracks. When I crossed the white lines it gave me a bit of freedom from the gambling, it cleared my head but once it was over and I was sitting in the dressing room or on the bus it was ‘where’s my buzz again?’
“The Leinster final was coming up and I got the nod to start and I remember being on the treatment table inside in Croke Park and I hadn’t a brown cent to rub together. I was the joker of the pack, I’d have a bit of craic but I went out and was taken off after 27 minutes. I wasn’t in the game.
“There’s always an excuse whenever you’re taken off but I didn’t have an excuse. I knew I wasn’t in the right place and had been covering over the cracks with good games but this was the last straw. When that board went up with my number, if there was a hole in Croke Park I would have jumped into it. The sick feeling I had in my stomach... it was all over.
“Sitting in the bus going down home, I was saying to myself ‘what am I going to do?’”
Glennon’s parents had stayed in Dublin that evening to attend a concert. He found himself home alone, contemplating taking his own life. It wasn’t without consideration. He had seen the effect of his teammate Niall Donohue’s tragic death in 2013 but he was in such despair that it didn’t matter. Ultimately, it was a text from his younger teenage brother Ronan that inadvertently stopped him.
“He was getting a lift home with one of my cousins and I didn’t realise he was coming home. I said to myself, ‘Will I do it now?’ I hopped into my car and I said ‘where am I going to go? What’s the easiest way out?’ I asked myself what I was leaving behind and the consequences of leaving a young brother, mother and father but you’re so selfish. I was gone selfish. I didn’t care about myself and when you can’t do that you’re not going to care about your friends or your family and the trail you’re leaving behind.
“I didn’t know where I was driving to but I was saying to myself that it was all over and I had to do something. It was 11 o’clock at night when I got a text from him to leave the door open because he would be home. It triggered with me then — ‘what are you doing?’ So I turned on the road and went home. It took my head away from what I was doing. I couldn’t do it. It got me around but I was at breaking point all that week. How was I going to do it? What’s the easiest way? I didn’t want to hurt myself but just get out of town. I wasn’t trying to kill myself but I wanted to kill the life I was living.”
Eventually, he broke down to his mother the following Thursday morning. Donohue’s memory came into his head — there was a life-line. “She knew, but they couldn’t do anything when I wasn’t prepared to do anything for myself. I was going against the grain at home at all times. I said I have to go to Cuan Mhuire.”
It wasn’t until the following day that Canning, who had been worried when he couldn’t make contact with Glennon, discovered his friend had signed himself into Cuan Mhuire’s Athenry treatment centre. Driving up to the building, Glennon had resigned himself to his hurling career being over. The image he had of Cuan Mhuire was of people “going around in bathrobes and slippers”.
Pride still had a grip on him. Sharing a room with seven other addicts, all of whom were detoxing, he felt he hardly had it as bad as them until he started his one-on-one counselling.
“My counsellor was Mick Moloney. He was an absolute gent. He looked at me when I came in and said: ‘You’ve a serious problem. You’re a compulsive gambler and there is no other way about it. You have a serious, serious problem. You didn’t know but you’ve had it for years.’ He actually called it chronic compulsive gambling.
“When he got talking to me in the one-on-one and whether I could stay away from it. I couldn’t. I was gone to a stage when you start missing training, faking injuries and stuff like that. That was when I came to realise I was in denial up to them six weeks. Denial went out the window. I had to say I was a compulsive gambler.”
That was week six of the 12-week programme. Each day, Glennon would wake at 6.30am and have breakfast. There would be mass at 12.30pm, a Rosary at 6pm and lights out at 10pm. They were given tasks to do — “I’d never gone to the bog in my life!”
He hadn’t been religious either but the routine appealed to him. “There were chores that you had to do. You were going back to everyday normal life. I was living a life of controversy and chaos. It was cruel and a pure rat-race. There was devilment in my head to a point where I was gambling outside of my local area of Loughrea, going to Ennis and different places so that people didn’t see me. I was conscious of that. It was in Cuan Mhuire when you get back to reality and basics. You’re doing the routine things. You’re getting up in the morning and getting your breakfast, which I never did.”
Glennon’s only contact with the outside world was at the weekends when family and friends, including his Galway teammates, visited him. Before they played Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final, he wrote them a letter telling them of his situation, his support for them and his promise to rejoin them in the future.
Special allowances were made for him to watch Galway’s games. As comfortable as the win was over Cork, he was on the edge of his seat for the entirety of the All-Ireland semi-final with Tipperary. The day before the final, he was visited by a bevvy of his team-mates. “That was what they meant to me and what I meant to them. I was near the end, about three weeks out. The boost and drive it gave me, that these boys have the faith in me to come through this... I can’t explain it.”
His heart went out to them the next day when they couldn’t maintain their electric first half against Kilkenny. But for him, the reality of his problem kicked in.
“I was looking at the All-Ireland final and realising exactly what gambling had taken away from me — All-Ireland final day, which you dream of as a young guy. I had that opportunity in 2012 and 2015 if my addiction didn’t take over my life.”
Glennon isn’t currently working but he couldn’t be much happier than at present. He now sleeps at night when he couldn’t before, wrought with worry and guilt.
“I haven’t a penny to rub together, I don’t have a huge amount of money but the €10 or €20 that I do have in my pocket I respect it. I respect it too much to give it to a bookie or some kind of betting situation.”
When Micheál Donohue called him on New Year’s Day to invite him to return to the Galway panel, he was made up. Increment by increment, he has worked his way to a point where he is now doing enough to justify selection in his preferred position in midfield.
Yet he knows the wolf will never leave his door. The job is never to open it. “Going out into the big, bad world and having to pass bookies and hear radio stations where they are temptations and the only person that can hold you from those temptations is yourself. There are days when you get the adrenaline rush. Don’t get me wrong — I loved gambling. I adored hurling and I adored gambling. They were my two biggest things but my gambling took away from hurling. That’s how bad it was.
“Every day is a school day for me. I only take one day at a time. I’m never going to be cured from this illness. I’m a compulsive gambler for the rest of my life. Any gambler who says he’s not isn’t telling the truth. I’ve lost years of hurling that I can never get back. I’m 25 years just gone and I’m just trying to make the most of it because literally gambling took over my life and it ate me. I lost money, my hurling, my talent, what I was good at and the only thing I hadn’t lost yet was my life. That was yet. That was what we’re always taught in Cuan Mhuire — yet. But the next thing down the line for me was my life.”
Cuan Mhuire built him back up and the guidance of the GPA has sustained him, he reports. He sees how they and the GAA are attempting to tackle the scourge of gambling addiction but fears there’s only so much they can do.
“The Paddy Power and others that are out there, they are so big and there are so much profits that it’s very hard to deal with. I saw articles about underage and school games being advertised, which I don’t agree with. You have to be 18 now to make a bet. The temptation is there. Gambling on children, they don’t realise what they can do to someone’s life. I just think that has to be nipped in the bud. It’s out of order.”
Gambling wanted Glennon all to itself but he now shares himself with his nearest and dearest as well as others.
“The respect you have for your family and friends now is the big thing. I would go out of my way to do something for people now because I have that clear conscience back. I have my respect.
“Anything I can do for anyone, I’ll do it, whether they’re a GAA player or not. I know there are people being crippled by addiction and they haven’t come out. People are losing their lives because of it.”
Glennon is the voice but also the message — there is hope.
Starting on August 3, a group from Davy Glennon’s parish of Mullagh will walk from Croke Park to Mullagh in aid of Cuan Mhuire and a local group aimed at encouraging mental and physical activity among men who had retired from hurling.
From Mullagh, they will cycle to Cuan Mhuire’s treatment centre in Coolarne, Athenry where they hope to present a hurley signed and presented by GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail on August 6.
As part of their giving back to the local community campaign, Top Oil have come on board as sponsors.
The four-day event replicates in reverse Glennon’s experience of last year when he checked into Cuan Mhuire four days after he lined out for Galway in a Leinster final.
The fundraiser will be launched in Cuan Mhuire, Athenry next Saturday 3.30pm.
In 2015, Glennon was among 490 people treated in Athenry.
It costs €1m per annum to run the facility but after Government funding and resident contributions there is a shortfall of between €100,000 and €150,000.
Anyone affected by the issues raised in Glennon’s interview can contact Cuan Mhuire’s treatment centres: Athenry, Co Galway (0)91 797102); Athy, Co Kildare (0)59 86 31090/31493; Bruree, Co Limerick (0)63 90555; Farnanes, Co Cork (0)21 7335994, Newry 0044 (0)28 30849010.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner. .