Shanahan revealed the extent of his mental health struggles on the night he picked up his first All Star award earlier this month and Connors reckons his team-mate has “opened the door” for players who are currently suffering in silence.
Connors says inter-county players are often viewed as “robots” or “machines” who are immune to real life issues. Shanahan, he added, has altered this stereotype.
“I am not sure that role model is the correct term for Maurice given everything he has been through, but that is how he will be seen as he had the courage to come out in public and talk about the difficult times he went through,” said Connors.
“He has changed the norm. When people look at inter-county hurlers, they think of muscular, dominant individuals. That perception makes it harder for players to come out in public and let people know of their struggles.
“Maurice has opened up doors. He has led the way.
“Noel McGrath is another who should be seen as a role model. Their actions will enable others to have the courage to come out and speak of issues which have affected them. This wouldn’t have been done 10 years ago, players coming out in public to talk about off-field issues.
“Athletes are often seen as machines or robots and sometimes people on the outside don’t realise that players are dealing with issues away from their sport. The outside perception is often that players don’t have issues. It is quite the opposite. Inter-county players who are in education are dealing with exams, deadlines. They bring with them their own stress.”
Connors, who also picked up an All Star award this month, admitted it was extremely difficult to watch his friend grapple with depression.
“I grew up with Maurice. I have known him since our U12 days. I could see from early on [in his battle] that something was up. There was quite a change in his personality. Maurice is such a positive guy and a great person to be around.
“It was tough to see him go through what he went through, but at the same time, it was a big positive to see him come to training and it was great to see him come back to himself more and more. He has had a great year in light of what he went through to get himself back on the field.
“We [the Waterford squad] are a tight-knit bunch of lads and I would like to think the closeness of our group and the bond that is there helped Maurice. That is a support mechanism even though you wouldn’t think it.” And the Waterford corner-back insists there are services available for players if they require a person to talk to.
“The GPA and Siobhan Earley are excellent in this regard. The WGPA are there also under Dr Aoife Lane. They have helped and impacted on people’s lives. It is just up to those to avail of this help, to not be afraid to seek help.”
- Noel Connors will be speaking at tomorrow’s Waterford GAA and Genzyme Health & Wellbeing Conference which takes place in Genzyme. Other speakers include Dan and Maurice Shanahan, chairperson of the WGPA Dr Aoife Lane andGAA president Aogan Ó Fearghail.