JOHNNY McINTOSH: Mental health matters

IT’S been one of the saddest periods of my life with the loss of my nephew Jack McCoy. I’ve lost other people close to me but this has been something else entirely.

He worked with me for the last four or five years and it’s been an emotional torment not just for me but the whole family.

I think the GAA were not very well equipped to deal with mental health issues. There are resources available, but most people don’t know about them.

Clubs have cultural officers, coaching officers and child protection officers and so on, but I think something every club needs is a well-being officer or some sort of forum where we can get people talking.

It seems like young boys in particular are struggling and while I know mental health isn’t completely neglected within society, I think we need a structure within our organisation where anyone with a problem can lift the phone and it begins a process to help solve the problem.

Yes, people can chat to their friends and that’s good, but it’s not professional and invariably most won’t know what to say beyond ‘keep the head up’ and so on. I’m chairman of my own club and it’s something I’m going to talk to the committee about. We need to do more in our organisation and it’s like anything in life, it won’t get fixed until we admit there’s a problem.

I don’t like to criticise the GAA because it’s an amazing organisation and lads benefit mentally from training together as a team, but if a lad for example is injured, he might find himself feeling isolated.

We put so much work into getting lads physically fit between gym and running programmes but maybe we don’t take a step back to see how someone is doing mentally.


ANTRIM had a disappointing league campaign, losing five our of five matches and that wasn’t entirely unexpected with so many lads unavailable.

We knew it was going to be tough, but the loss of our u-20s to Derry in the Ulster Championship came as a much bigger shock to everybody.

There’s a lot of people worrying about the demise of our underage structures and development squads and that seems to apply to the footballers as well, who have taken some really heavy beatings in recent weeks.

I think we’re feeling the pain of not putting enough time or resources into our youngsters. We’re developing roughly the same players as we did 20 years ago, but the problem is there’s more temptation for lads and they go away and pursue other things.

Other counties have changed their development structure to compensate for the fact they know they’ll only retain a certain amount of players.

We still have big enough squads at underage level but not enough is being done and I worry that 2024 is going to be our darkest hour, things have gotten that bad.

The only way the county is going to rectify matters is with a root and branch review.

There’s plenty of positives at club level, our Senior and Intermediate Championships are very strong so it’s not all doom and gloom but our underage structures definitely need a major overhaul.

I think we’ve got to pour more resources into our younger players. It’s not a problem with the senior intercounty team who are bound for Portugal for a training camp ahead of the Leinster Championship, and that’s great but I’d personally prefer if that money was fed into our underage structures instead.

We’ve got to invest heavily in our future and that can be difficult because the rewards can be very slow in coming round.

I’ve seen the issues for a long time with my sons involved in development squads. I’ve seen for example what Derry have been doing. Five years ago they had a second team at u-16 level that were too strong for Antrim, so is it any surprise that they’re too strong for us five years later?

We don’t steel young lads for intercounty hurling. If you take a young lad who has been training twice weekly then push him onto a six-day week programme, it’s not going to work. You have to instill a culture of what’s expected at senior level where you’re building them up to what is essentially a professional lifestyle.

And as I said at the beginning, you have to develop young lads mentally as well.

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