Former Cork City defender Brian Lenihan: I feel lucky to have a second chance at life after darkest days

Former Cork City defender Brian Lenihan has revealed that the real reason he retired from football at the age of just 23 was the mental illness which led him to attempt to take his own life last year.

When the then Hull City player announced his retirement in April “on medical advice”, it was widely assumed a succession of injury problems had taken an irreparable toll on the Cork-born player.

But in an interview with Trevor Welch on the Hard Knock Sports Cork podcast, he has now spoken openly about what he calls “a really dark period” in his life in 2017 and also described how, with medical help, he was able to make the journey back into the light.

“I didn’t come out and say why I did retire but the reason I did retire was due to illness, not injury,” explained the now 24-year-old.

“It was a really dark period in my life from, say, July up until December. I was struggling a lot, with football and with lots of other things, mainly my mental health.

On the 15th of December, I attempted suicide and I was brought to hospital and then transferred to the Priory Hospital in Altrincham and I spent three months there.

“I did twelve sessions of ECT — electroconvulsive therapy. It was a really dark period but one that, genuinely, I feel lucky to have a second chance at life.

“It’s something that not a lot of people know. Obviously, my mum, my dad, my girlfriend, my close friends and stuff, but nobody else really knows that. When you asked me to do the interview — and obviously you thought it was because of injuries as well — I was torn between doing the interview or not. Because I don’t want to come across as being dramatic or having an excuse for the reason why I retired. And that’s not the case.

“The reason I agreed to the interview was, I suppose, if I could help at least one person make sure they don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Because it wasn’t that I didn’t have a close-knit family or a good support network. I really did, I had such a great support network.

But when you’re in that state of mind, I don’t think a lot of things can stop you from making mistakes like that. When I speak to people about mental health and depression, it’s a cancer of the mind, like, it’s so difficult to get over, I suppose.

Lenihan continued: “Last month, my mum and lots of family members did the Darkness into Light walk, for suicide awareness. My mam said when she got to the finish line there were loads of families with their yellow jumpers on with pictures of their kids on the backs, crying their eyes out. And it’s something that hit me hard. I feel lucky that I’ve got a second chance at life. Lots of other people don’t.”

Asked if his depression was football-related, Lenihan replied: “Well, for me it was not reaching my potential, not achieving enough, not getting a reward for the amount of hard work I was putting in.

“It’s like anything in life. You put hard work into something with the hope and expectation of getting something in return and, for the amount of work and effort I put in, I didn’t really get anything in return. And that’s understandable, these things happen.

“I’m ashamed of what I did but if I was in the same position I think the same thing would have happened and I would have ended up at this point anyway. And I’m happy now, I’m really, really happy in Manchester, away from football, and just living a happy life. And I think that’s the most important thing.”

  • If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, help and support is available from the Samaritans on freephone 116123, or email jo@samaritans.org or Freecall Pieta House at 1800 247 247.

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