Clare Shine: 'When you are stuck in addiction, it overpowers you and strangles you'

Republic of Ireland international Clare Shine is proof there is always a way out of the toughest situation if you open up and let people in. 
Clare Shine: 'When you are stuck in addiction, it overpowers you and strangles you'

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 26: Clare Shine launches her new book 'Scoring Goals in the Dark' at OVO Hydro, on May 26, 2022, in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Don’t forget just how good a footballer she is, urges Ireland captain Katie McCabe in the foreword to Clare Shine’s new book Scoring Goals in the Dark.

But Clare accepts, even in a week when she’ll play another cup final for Glasgow City, that the focus won't be on her sporting talent.

“It can overshadow the football alright,” she smiles. “And the football is so important to me. But that’s my doing as well. I wanted to put myself out there and help as many people as I can. To show people that as tough as it may seem right now there is always a way out.”

The jumbled timeline of the book, shaped from her diaries with the help of Gareth Maher, captures vividly the chaos her life became. How the grip of addiction brought her twice to the very depths of despair.

It contrasts sharply with how Clare presents in person. Calm, precise, analytical, sharp on the impossible snooker her mental health had become. Seeing everything so clearly now. Feeling the love around her that had been there all along.

It’s obvious hers can be such a powerful, important voice. Because it’s painfully clear this is a self-aware woman who could see herself tumbling but was powerless to break the fall. Her message is straightforward: you cannot do it on your own, please let people in.

In the book she bravely retraces the darkest hours as well as some heartbreaking signposts along the way.

A full international, she is out through injury but travels anyway to Ireland’s famous draw with the Netherlands in 2017, to support her great friend, goalkeeper Amanda Budden. Clare has been drinking all day and packs a bottle of wine in her bag. She’s among fans and parents and knows people are nudging one another. Look at her.

At the final whistle, she races to the barriers to congratulate her friends, teammates, while trying to dodge manager Colin Bell, in case he sees the state of her and never picks her again. Katie McCabe, another of her closest friends, reels at the smell of drink.

A few months later, deja vu. A home game against Northern Ireland, still the other side of the barriers so six pints beforehand, across to the hotel opposite Tallaght Stadium at half-time for more. McCabe again the first player she hugs at the end, again she steps back shocked.

“I had started to lose connection with people. It wasn’t that she looked at me in disgust, but it was more like a realisation for her as to how bad things had become for me.” 

There’s a game with Cork City where Clare arrives in the dressing room drunk having been out all night. “The younger players keep their heads down and are not making eye contact.” The older ones are furious. Their most talented player has let them down again.

There’s a jolt when someone tags her on social media in a photo from Tallaght Stadium. Why?

“Who’s that? I didn’t recognise who the girl was. It was me. Or at least an intoxicated version of me.” 

“There was a long period where I hadn’t a clue who I was,” she says now. “I had lost respect from a lot of people. I knew all the decisions I was making were wrong. I knew they were hurting other people. But I couldn’t control that, I felt completely powerless. I didn’t know how to help myself. I didn’t have the strength to speak and ask for help even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

“When you are stuck in addiction, it overpowers you and grips you and strangles you. To try and release that and have the courage to speak about these things was what I found difficult. And when you’re in that moment it’s so hard to talk about it.” 

It’s an uplifting aspect of the book how many solid, good people there are among our most talented footballers.

McCabe does all she can to find out why her old friend was withdrawing from everybody. Denise O'Sullivan tucks Clare under her wing in Glasgow and teaches her to cook. Ireland goalkeeper Grace Moloney is among her first visitors in the Stobhhil Hospital Psychiatric Ward after Clare’s relapse in 2020. And Budden, a teammate in Cork, is a real hero of the book, by her side when she wakes after her first suicide attempt.

It’s Budden who gives her routine, who collects her every morning for the gym. And who knew when it was time to intervene when things had slipped too far at Cork City.

“I speak about Amanda a lot in the book and she went out of her way to tell the management about my behaviour. And at the time I wasn’t impressed with it or with her. But looking back it was the best thing that happened to me.

“That’s huge, having people who will go above and beyond for you. I know it was so difficult for my friends and family to see me in that state. I’ve given them some amazing memories but I’ve brought them to some really dark places as well.” 

At the start of the Covid pandemic, Clare relapsed. Very publicly. She had just played for Ireland against Montenegro when lockdown trapped her in a Glasgow apartment and she suddenly felt lonelier than ever before.

“When I became sober the first time I thought the next time I pick up a drink it will be different. I have learned so much about myself. I’m not going to dip into that mindset again. But that’s what addiction does, it tells you that it’s going to be different the next time. You’ll be able to have one or two drinks and go home which is not the case and never has been the case for me.” 

She drank, and the guilt became too much and then it seemed the whole of Glasgow and Cork and the football world had joined the search for her. Nicola Sturgeon tweeted. It should have been obvious how much she was loved.

“I couldn’t feel any of that even after when I saw the amount of messages. I felt so alone I couldn’t feel anything towards anybody, it brought me that low.

“It’s crazy, I used to walk into dressing rooms full of people who loved me, who adored me. I was a big character in the team and I still felt I didn’t have anybody. That’s the loneliness it can bring you.” 

*****

Don’t forget how good a footballer she is. And camogie player. And Gaelic footballer.

The book recalls innocent days. Give her a ball and a yard of grass on the Broadale estate, the girl who could take on any of the boys. A beautiful photograph of her playing street leagues Gaelic for Douglas — a young lad a good bit taller grabbing helplessly in her wake.

She played U14, U16, minor in football and hurling for Cork. She alerted soccer to her gifts with 20 goals one weekend to help Douglas Hall win the U12 National Cup. Then came Euro finals with Ireland, taking Spain, featuring Alexia Putellas, to pens in the final of the U17 Euros. If there wasn’t a World Cup to play in Trinidad and Tobago, there was an All-Ireland final.

And things gradually got complicated.

“All these things were happening in my life and it was regular, every week, something to look forward to.” 

She began to feel a little weight on the shoulders: “I was the one people looked out for to make something happen in a game. People man-marked me, tried to shut me out of games. The expectations and pressures…” 

She started to feel pulled from one sport to the other. “There were people calling me. We’re going to lose this game if you don’t play.” 

And she could sense resentment from teammates who saw her waltz back in for the biggest days. That self-awareness again.

But she hadn’t a clue how to say no. A crazy weekend in 2012 brought an international soccer camp on Friday and Saturday. Hard training, bootcamp stuff. Then special permission to leave and report for duty to play in the All-Ireland senior camogie final for Cork on Sunday. She started against Wexford. The following Tuesday she scored twice in Turner’s Cross for Douglas Hall in a cup final.

“It’s madness, but I was able to do it because I was young and had all the energy and talent in the world. It just came crashing down at a certain point.

“It ultimately destroyed my motivation. It got to a point where I was completely burned out and didn’t enjoy it anymore.

“I looked to drink and other things to get that same high. Which was only short-term. I thought it was giving me a lease of life, but it was only feeding my addiction and making everything 100 times worse.” 

20 September 2021; Clare Shine during a Republic of Ireland training session at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
20 September 2021; Clare Shine during a Republic of Ireland training session at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Football talks casually about bouncebackability but there is no better example. Clare returned for Ireland last year and scored in the Champions League this season.

She is still tweaking her medication to get the balance right with her sport. But her self-awareness will now be her biggest asset. She trusts the process she must follow. 

“I need to know my triggers, what’s best for me. How to handle them and keep on track at all times. If I don’t stick to a routine, the things I need, that’s an opportunity for me to slip. And it’s a road I don’t ever want to go down again.” 

She’s immensely grateful to family and friends, and to Glasgow City, for chances and opportunities. She gives back every day in her work as a mental health ambassador in the city. And with this book. 

In football, she won’t look far past Sunday against Celtic. In life, she goes day by day.

“Just stay sober and be happy and be the best person I can be and help as many people as I can.” 

She’ll be home to Cork soon and some old haunts will be off-limits. “But it has opened so many more doors. Now I can enjoy the simple things, going for a coffee, a walk. Being able to sit on my own and be at peace with my own thoughts.” 

And there’s her niece. Love has played its part in Clare's recovery.

Emily was born in Cork just when she was needed most. “She came into my life at a time when I needed some sort of happiness. We’ve a very close relationship.

“I came home last summer and had got her a Glasgow City jersey with my name on the back. And we walked up to Douglas Hall. She was only playing with the under-fives but just to see her getting in amongst everybody was exactly where I was at that age… 

“To be able to be there for her and maybe see the start of her football career, obviously if it’s something she wants to do. She loves the dancing at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll get a pair of football boots on her at some stage.” 

And help to light her journey.

Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine with Gareth Maher is published by Pitch Publishing

- If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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