MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Bringing mental fitness into play

Colin Regan

Maintaining mental fitness requires work and skill development in the same way as maintaining our physical fitness does.

It was interesting to chat the other day to Colin Regan, the GAA’s community and health officer; it always is, dealing with someone who’s on top of his brief.

My reason for contacting Regan was a simple one, familiar to those who picked up Saturday’s paper: in the modern sports environment, there’s a laudable candour about discussing mental health challenges, and the stigma surrounding such challenges is diminishing.

My question was whether we were sometimes forgetting about some of those first points of contact for people in that situation, namely, the managers and coaches who have players approaching them with a range of issues? Who’s preparing those managers and coaches to deal with people’s issues?

I won’t recycle the discussion we had, but I do want to refer to something we ran out of space for last Saturday — the GAA’s ‘Play In My Boots’ packs. Because we can all default to considering the implications for elite players, it was encouraging to see the packs are “designed for everyone and anyone”.

They aim to use “the term ‘mental fitness’ to emphasise the positive nature of our mental wellness, the packs also aim to remind the GAA population maintaining mental fitness requires work and skill development in the same way as maintaining our physical fitness does.

* Well worth checking out at: www.gaa.ie/clubzone/play-in-my-boots/

Fair dinkum to wild Wallaby Beale

Ah, the wayward Australian sports star. Surely this is the gift that keeps on giving.

Mr Kurtley Beale, rugby union star, is this week’s class act.

Beale, you may remember, was the man snapped at a fast food joint in the wee small hours during the Lions series last year, but he’s outdone himself in recent weeks by getting involved in a texting scandal.

The details include photographs of a nude woman with a crossbow, and a recent fine for Beale of about €30,000. This wasn’t just a matter of high jinks: a couple of people have lost their jobs because of this scandal, including Di Patston, the Wallabies business manager, while the departure of head coach Ewen McKenzie, though coming after a narrow defeat by New Zealand, had the Beale issue lurking in the background in a contributing factor.

Beale hasn’t lost his job, mind, on his way to adding another glorious chapter to the lengthy volume of Australian rugby knuckleheads, entering the charts probably below Quade Cooper’s burglary charge five years ago, but above James O’Connor sleeping through team meetings and missing buses to international games (that’s just union, by the way: the rugby league hall of infamy is even more spacious).

There’s another dimension to this story, and that’s the perilous state of Australian rugby finances, the same finances which pay Beale.

Those of you with longish memories might remember that earlier this year the Australian Rugby Union proposed a levy of $200 (€140) on every rugby club in the country in an attempt to balance its books.

It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to put oneself into the mind of a genuine rugby club member, devoted to his team and keeping it on the road, seeing Beale acting the clown and linking his antics to the levy his outfit had to cough up.

In fairness, it should be pointed out the Wallabies themselves have agreed to cut their match fees from $14,000 (€9,835) per game to $10,000 (€7,025) but the obvious point to make is that as long as players like Beale are getting fined, they’re recycling more and more cash through ARU coffers anyway.

It’s not as if that’s going away any time soon as a source of (circular) revenue for Aussie rugby bosses. Only a few days ago, the ARU announced another fine for Beale for an altercation on a flight to Argentina. It occurred in September, and in a statement, they explained: “The lag [in announcing the separate fine] was because it was overtaken by issues associated with the text messages.”

Scandals being overtaken by other scandals along the way. Bravo!

Is playing on a variety of surfaces a truer test?

Jack Power of this parish recently passed on a book to me, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer by David Goldblatt, an entertaining read on the growth in popularity in soccer over the last couple of decades.

In the book Goldblatt raised an interesting point in an aside, recalling the muddy Division One pitches of his youth and comparing them to the manicured billiard-table surfaces of today.

His question was this: is playing games on a variety of surfaces a truer test of a team’s ability over the marathon of a league campaign? Is adapting to terrible conditions indicative of a team that has answers for all questions, not just those posed by uniform challenges? Clearly you’d want good surfaces rather than bad ones, and the argument could also be made that the even, dependable playing surfaces of the 21st century reward the best players with the best technique. Removing variables like mud, huge puddles and rutted, hardened mud means the cream rises to the top.

There’s also a hint here of the traditional English problem, of disdaining good technique in favour of character and stamina: clearly if you tipped too far in the wrong direction you’d be in danger of saying a team of prop forwards would be best equipped for success in the championship.

There’s also the fact teams naturally tend to prosper in conditions they find familiar, something that applies across codes (the old Boston Garden had dead spots on its timber floors which the Celtics avoided when dribbling, but visiting sides weren’t as familiar with the pitfalls).

It’d be nice to strike a balance, though, and force Premier League teams to play half a dozen games or so on ground similar to the ankle-swallowing muck of the Baseball Ground around 1974, say, when goalkeepers often seemed in danger of getting trench foot from hanging around unused between the sticks. There’s enough money in the modern game to handle the dry-cleaning bills, surely.

Now that’s what you call bravery!

Because terms like ‘bravery’ and ‘battle’ can get tossed around in the sports pages a little too liberally, they can become desensitised through overuse.

But real bravery was celebrated in this newspaper a couple of days ago, when Elber Twomey returned to the hospital in Plymouth to thank the staff who helped her survive the car crash which killed her husband, son and unborn daughter two years ago.

Elber Twomey survived that crash and endured 19 operations on her road to recovery. She has forgiven the man who wiped out her family in the crash and is campaigning for better police training when it comes to dealing with people who are suicidal.

Oh, and she presented cheques to two hospitals who helped her recover: thousands of euro raised by well-wishers as a gesture of gratitude.

In this neighbourhood of the newspaper we talk about ‘heroes’ taking frees or dropping players. Elber Twomey is the kind of hero that doesn’t need inverted commas. Best of luck in her campaign.


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