Tipperary hurling legend John Leahy has described gambling in the GAA as a timebomb that has already exploded.
Leahy, a qualified addiction counsellor, explained the consequences of the “progressive” spiral into debt, despair and possibly suicide when he attended the launch of the 2014 Tesco Homegrown Ladies NFL yesterday.
Next Monday at Croke Park, GAA chiefs will launch their gambling guidelines for players and clubs, with Offaly star Niall McNamee and former Armagh All-Ireland SFC winner Oisín McConville scheduled to attend.
Both men were compulsive gamblers and Leahy himself battled alcohol addiction. When asked about the growing scourge of gambling in the GAA, Leahy admitted: “I think the bomb has gone off.
“People don’t realise with the gambling, you are on an emotional roller-coaster.
“When you win you get a high, when you lose you are down in the dumps.
“When you end up losing and start chasing the debt, they are in the depths of it and that’s not a nice place to be for a person.”
And Leahy insists addiction can lead to decreased levels of performance on the playing fields.
“I have no doubt if you were playing at a sports level, and if you’ve lost a few bob or are in debt, that has to have an effect on how you are going to perform and how you are on a daily basis.
“It’s not only a bit of gambling, there is a side effect.
“It’s progressive as well, small bets today, bigger bets in six months’ time, bigger in 12 months time, it is not possible to perform to the best of your ability.”
Leahy is pleased that increased numbers are utilising the confidential counselling service that was established by the Gaelic Players Association in 2011.
And the two-time All-Ireland SHC medallist admits that former Galway star Niall Donohue’s tragic death last October struck a chord with him.
Leahy explained: “All families have suffered somewhere down along the line with something. Those going through it think they are alone, the only ones suffering from these problems, but they are not..
“For the poor chap (Donohue), whatever was going on…the family, what must be left.
“I know from talking to families who have lost people and what it leaves behind is so many questions and very few answers.
“That’s the chord it struck with me any time I hear it, particularly in sport.”
Leahy added: “We have young lads in the era of computer games and doing things on their own – we (in the GAA) have a lot to offer young people with social skills, mixing with people, getting them out of themselves.
“What I talked about, the alcohol, drugs, gambling, suicide, all that stuff comes an awful lot from being on your own and not having anyone around you.
“Get our young lads and girls out there, get them playing and enjoying the sport. We all want to win but it’s not everything – it’s the participation. Of course I want to win but bring more to it and I’d be hoping that winning is a knock-on from that.”
Leahy revealed that it was the “enthusiasm” of the Tipperary ladies football board that convinced him to get on board with the Premier County.
He admitted: “I was blown away by the enthusiasm that they had. I couldn’t believe it really. I’d be looking at ladies football – it would be popular, got great profile last year with the All-Ireland but you wouldn’t realise the effort these girls put in.”
Meanwhile, Ladies Gaelic Football Association President Pat Quill has warned that biting is an offence that will not be tolerated.
Quill revealed that an incidence of biting has not been reported in ladies football but admitted that the Association must remain vigilant to ensure that remains the case.
Quill said: “Sometimes your next incident is only just around the corner so you never know.
“But it’s something that team managers and players know will not be tolerated in ladies football.
“The penalties can be quite harsh and the fines that go with it are a deterrent. But we haven’t had it and, hopefully, we won’t have it. Biting or spitting or any of those things – there is simply no place for it in a sports field.
“If you can’t beat someone fair and square, you shouldn’t be playing the game, it’s as simple as that. The stakes are high and get higher but successful teams are always well disciplined.”
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