GAA clubs urged to act on 'rampant' recreational drug use

As part of a drugs programme launched for clubs in Waterford, a top referee said the lack of awareness campaigning was an "indictment" on members and leadership
GAA clubs urged to act on 'rampant' recreational drug use

WARNING: Referee Alan Kissane, a Garda Inspector, spoke at a drugs programme launched for GAA clubs in Waterford

A drugs addiction counsellor has warned GAA clubs about how they approach drug use by their members, cautioning them against "enabling" troubled players as a way of offering support.

As part of a drugs programme launched for clubs in Waterford, a top referee said the lack of awareness campaigning was an "indictment" on members and leadership for how they have tackled the use of recreational drugs by players and club personnel.

The programme has already been rolled out in Carlow and Kilkenny in recent months and sees Gardaí and family resource groups visit individual clubs to speak to members on the use of drugs.

The launch heard from George Henderson, a counsellor who is recovering from an alcohol and cocaine addiction, who said he has seen clubs respond to drug use by key performers by handing the player the captaincy, believing the responsibility would help them turn things around off the field.

"But it doesn't, it just leads to the player eventually leaving himself down and leaving the club down," he said.

"I had a coach ring me last year and he said to me, 'We know [this player is] taking something, but we can't lose him, we can't lose him - he's our main player,'" he added.

Henderson recalled being asked about making that troubled player the team captain as a solution.

"I said don't do it. He'll let you down - he can't help it. He'll let himself down, he'll let the club down and he'll let everyone down."

He added: "Clubs will make this fella their captain so he might sort himself out. To me, that's a myth. To me, that's enabling that player to do whatever he wants."

Instead, Henderson said clubs need to be able to talk to the player, to "give him an option, offer him support, offer him help".

Drug use in the GAA has become "rampant" in recent years, he continued.

Garda Inspector Alan Kissane, who is a national advisor to Croke Park for football, told the meeting that he has seen "behavioural issues of fellas on the field who I know personally have been taking drugs" off it.

"I know because through the [Garda] job, I've either been present when they've been caught or I've seen they've been caught and I see the behaviour on the field change."

The Tipperary man says there have been too many players who've had promising careers as teenagers, only to "fritter away from the scene".

Kissane, who is a member of Dunhill GAA in Co Waterford and stationed in Dungarvan, said he was aware of instances where players have committed "thefts from dressing rooms" of a mobile phone or small sums of money to pay for their cocaine habit.

He added that he has come across some players through emergency services on the evening after a game "saying they're going to kill themselves".

"So it is very evident and something we have to address together," he said.

"I've refereed a good bit in Waterford and in a lot of counties and I can tell you here, hand on heart, that I've gone into dressing rooms and clubhouses and I've seen signs up for child safeguarding [and] harassment and bullying posters.

"I've never seen a drug awareness poster in any dressing room or any clubhouse I've been in. That's an indictment on all of us, not just the association but all of us."

The programme received support from Waterford County Board chairman Sean Michael O'Regan, who urged club representatives "to get it on your agendas" over the coming months.

Séan Reinahrdt, secretary of Naomh Pól in Waterford City, cautioned "there only so much the GAA can do".

"Drugs affect every class of society now and that's maybe how you start to see people trying to change things. With this, clubs love participating and interacting with their local communities but there are other things to examine and that can be helping parents more and more to communicate in a positive way to guide kids."

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