It is not unusual for club and inter-county players diagnosed with chronic illnesses to first approach the GAA in seeking help, a leading official revealed.
It emerged yesterday Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath is to undergo surgery for testicular cancer tomorrow and the GAA’s health and community manager Colin Regan says players suffering from serious illnesses often feel more comfortable contacting the organisation than visiting their local GP. Regan referenced the ‘Cork Beats Stress’ programme rolled out in 2014 as proof positive of the stigma that still exists in attaining help through the traditional channels.
“We would regularly receive communication from individuals who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses or often from their family members or loved ones who are just looking for support, advice and guidance,” Regan disclosed.
“It is important to stress the GAA is not a service provider. We always recommend anyone who comes to us should see their GP as a first port of call. Sometimes, however, people would rather go through the GAA and there is evidence of this from the ‘Cork Beats Stress’ programme carried out by the Midleton and St Finbarr’s clubs.
“They rolled out a six-week evidence-based intervention programme into the area of stress control and management. The primary care services had been trying to roll this out, but with limited success as the numbers attending were in the 20s. When it was rolled out in the club setting over 240 people attended. It was strongly evaluated by Jennifer Hayes of the HSE’s Department of Psychology in Cork the reason people availed of the opportunity was it was held in what they perceived as the safe neutral setting of the GAA club.”
At the GAA’s recent Health and Wellbeing Conference, former Monaghan footballer Jason Hughes opened up about his battle with testicular cancer in 1999 and the invaluable support provided by the GAA community.
“I went to the doctor and got the tumour removed. Then I learned it had gone secondary to both my lungs. Over the next 18 months, I went through six months of chemotherapy and had three major operations. That is when I learned a lot about the GAA. I was playing with 35 fellas on the club team. I had two brothers, but I gained another 35 at that time.”
Health and wellbeing committees have been established in all 32 counties and Regan insists the GAA is targeting a holistic approach, where the focus isn’t solely on positive mental health.
“We are trying to educate our members and put in the structures that make sure if somebody is approached by a person they know the correct place to signpost the person to, be that a query about their emotional wellbeing or their physical wellbeing.”
GAA president Aogán Ó Fearghail noted last month: “Health and wellbeing is core GAA business. We are a sporting organisation and sometimes we forget that. We are about bringing young men and young women right through from a very tender age and looking after them.”
The first meeting of the eight-person Cork GAA health and wellbeing committee took place yesterday and county board vice-chairperson Tracey Kennedy believes the organisation has a duty of care to its members.
“The discussion has been focused on mental health of late. It is important the discussion focuses on physical health too. Here in Cork we had the case of Joe Deane, who was in a similar situation to Noel McGrath 10 years ago. We are a huge organisation and there is a responsibility on us to look after our members in terms of mental health, physical health and general wellbeing. It doesn’t mean we have to be experts on all these things, but it is a case of signposting and letting people know where they can get help.”
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