Down the bottle, raise awareness

COLIN REGAN never expected to be in this job. On February 21, 2010, his mind was only on football as he jogged out onto the pitch for the first run out of the year with Melvin Gaels, a day after firing 1-1 for the Leitrim senior footballers in a league game against Kilkenny.

But a freak accident left his knee bust and brought his football career screeching to a halt. Four months laid up on the couch gave him time to think and he decided to move away from a journalism career that had seen him involved with the Leitrim Post, Donegal News and Irish Voice in Boston, while also doing a stint as communication manager for the North West Simon Community.

He went back to hitting the books in UCD, studying for a Masters in Sports Management and by the time he handed in his thesis on a Friday afternoon in July, he had applied, interviewed and been appointed for a job to start the following Monday morning. And that’s how he has become the national co-ordinator of the GAA’s ASAP (Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention) Programme.

He’s not here to preach. He likes a drink himself and has partaken in his fair share of scrumdowns in pubs either savouring or suffering a championship showdown. But if he has carried one message when travelling to all corners of the GAA community, it’s that he is about education rather than prohibition.

“In Ireland we go out and we binge drink. But if people can make small adjustments, it’ll make a huge difference, even something like switching from pints to bottles, which I do myself.”

Regan didn’t enter the job with a blank canvas in front of him. The GAA established this programme as a joint initiative with the HSE in November 2005 with Brendan Murphy the first to assume the role.

“Brendan put in the framework and my role is the continued roll out of the programme. We have now almost 1,500 ASAP officers in place which is well over 50% of the clubs in the country. The objective by 2015 is to get every club involved. We have 32 county ASAP officers with myself as the national co-ordinator and a national committee as well which meets every six to eight weeks.

“The full resources of the HSE are at our disposal and that’s very helpful. You wouldn’t let a week go by without someone from a club contacting for assistance. Confidentiality is a big thing. I’ve had a phone call from a concerned family member recently about an inter-county player. Brendan would have dealt with over 200 cases during his five years, with a number of inter-county players included in that. We link with the GPA’s counselling service as well.”

The response has been positive. They launched their Off the Booze and On the Ball initiative at the end of the November and will easily exceed their target of getting 500 individuals to sign up to it for the month of January. Mickey Harte has rowed in with his support along with 20 of his Tyrone players and eight backroom members. Boxer Darren O’Neill helped out at an event in Laois recently as did Leinster rugby player Sean O’Brien in Carlow.

Regan’s 2012 to-do list is extensive but he’s looking forward to ticking off items. On January 14, he’ll be speaking at the GAA Games Development Conference on player development with renowned performance coach Caroline Currid. He’s looking in to pilot a training programme this year for GAA coaches specifically around drug and alcohol issues. He knows there is at least one county in each province that he must get to engage stronger with the ASAP programme rather than paying lip service to it.

“The whole scene has changed enormously in the GAA from when I was first brought onto the Leitrim panel in 1996 and you’d massive sessions after National League games before Christmas.

“We’ve proved in Ireland over the last few years that we can change cultures with examples like the smoking ban and our attitude towards drink driving. It’s all an organic process and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.”

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