That’s the view of Cobh Ramblers’ new signing Shane O’Connor, who spoke on the Today With Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ Radio 1 yesterday.
O’Connor joined Liverpool as a 16-year-old from Cork club Rockmount and then played with Ipswich Town for three seasons before giving up on his dream of a cross-channel career.
“I feel people coming back from Ireland need more help. When people tried to talk to me, I just shut it out and tried to make up some sort of story to make them believe that I am hanging on to the dream.
“I could have used help trying to integrate back into normal life.
“From the age of 16, I’d get up, go training and I’d come home and wait to go training the next day. That was my life. That was the bubble you’d live in over there. When that bubble bursts, you don’t know where to turn.”
O’Connor, who has also played with Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Limerick FC, before joining Ramblers this month, was reacting to research conducted at Teeside University in England, which found that 55% of the young players studied suffered psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, after their release from a professional football club.
Dr Tim Prescott, director of clinical psychology at the university, described the stiffest challenge facing these young players. “The task of trying to create a new identity, look at themselves and face everyone they know and admit to themselves they are no longer going to be a pro footballer; that’s a huge adjustment task.”
O’Connor admits he felt a failure on his return to Cork from Ipswich. “That’s the word I’d use: failure. Failure is how it panned out for me. I got there and I didn’t manage to hold onto it. I felt if I had done more, nobody would have stopped me.”
The defender was always realistic about his chances of making the grade at Anfield. “I was never going to break into the first team at Liverpool. There’s people coming from all over the world every week to try and take your place. Pretty early on, there was always players better.”
But he initially thrived under Roy Keane at Ipswich and praised Keane’s man-management. “When he went to Ipswich I was fortunate enough to have his number and asked him would I be able to have a chance there. He was really good to me when I was over there. When I was homesick once or twice he rang me and he helped me.”
But, after a spell in the Ipswich first team, O’Connor was injured and his prospects stalled around the time Keane left the club. “The new manager (Paul Jewell) came in and he had his own views and in the summer he brought in his own player in my position. The player he brought in, to be honest, was much better than me.”
Retired Ireland international and psychotherapist Richie Sadlier backed up the calls for more support for players.
“Counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists — there is a role for that expertise in professional sport. Particularly in professional football and this age group. Because the vast majority of lads that go down this road will experience rejection, disappointment, failure.
“They will arrive at a point with their head in their hands and say ‘right, this is a catastrophe’. Those lads need help and more than just sympathetic chats with their friends.”