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Family Seeing O'Mahony In 'Broken State' Led To Kerry Star Getting Treatment

13 April 2008; Aidan O'Mahony, Kerry. Allianz National Football League, Division 1, Round 7, Galway v Kerry, Pearse Stadium, Salthill, Galway. Photo by Sportsfile
By PJ Browne Updated
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Aidan O'Mahony recalls sitting in his car with tears rolling down his face as he drove back to Cork for work after playing for Kerry. The five-time All-Ireland winner found himself in a dark place mentally between 2008 and 2010.

"I can remember after games, driving up to Cork and halfway up the road you'd be crying and saying, 'Jesus, What's wrong with you?'" the Rathmore man says during his episode of TG4's Laochra Gael series which airs at 9:30pm on February 2nd.

O'Mahony says matters started to deteriorate for him following the drawn 2008 All-Ireland semi-final against Cork when he was vilified for taking an infamous dive which resulted in Donnacha O'Connor being sent off.

"The enormity of it only sinks in when you get on the bus after. Cork have drawn level, and people should be talking about a replay, but they're talking about me," says O'Mahony who works as a garda.

"I remember going back to Cork the following morning. I was based in Angelsea St. You're inside in the public office and people walk into you, and they're not very happy with you.

"For a while, I nearly let it definite who I was, where you take away all the good work that you've done down through the years in sport, and you leave that one moment define you because you let all that external noise in.

"That incident... a person that was not good with dealing with things, and it was starting to finally unravel."



Kerry defeated Cork in the replay but lost the All-Ireland final to Tyrone. O'Mahony's woes didn't end at the final whistle. Later that year, he became the first GAA player to fail a doping test when he tested positive for Salbutamol, a substance found in asthma inhalers. He was cleared the following January when it was ruled that O'Mahony - who had been diagnosed with asthma aged eight - used the inhaler for medical purposes only.

"I fell out of love with the GAA," he says.

"I became negative towards it and said, 'Why me?' Your thought process is that you've been asthmatic since you were eight, and all of a sudden, you're splashed across the media as 'Aidan O'Mahony fails drug test'.


"Sympathy was in short supply after what happened in the semi-final against Cork. Everyone jumped to their own conclusions. Then I was seeing the headlines, 'O'Mahony is going to face two-year ban'. It was just a field day. I found it tough. I started becoming very negative and drained from it.

"When you're an asthmatic all your life, and you're going through setbacks as you try to make it in sport, and you finally get there and it comes back to bite you.

"Going into work and trying to explain yourself that Salbutamol is an inhaler, and you're having to write an email to send up through the channels because it could affect your work.


"I was starting to creep into a dark place myself, and I wasn't in a good place. All of those things were starting to snowball, and I wasn't dealing with one of them."

27 March 2010; Aidan O'Mahony, Kerry, is shown a red card by referee Padraig Hughes. Allianz GAA Football National League, Division 1, Round 6, Tyrone v Kerry, Healy Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Photo by Sportsfile

Kerry won the 2009 All-Ireland but it was a victory in which O'Mahony found little joy. He'd lost his starting place and admits that he was "anywhere but in the right form or the right mindset, and I think Jack (O'Connor) saw that as well". Retirement from the inter-county game crossed his mind. The following year, his mental health reached a crisis point.

"My mind was in a place where life was a routine where I was finding no enjoyment," he says.

"I wasn't seeing the good in sport. I was very distant from my family. I wasn't a nice person to be around at the time. I wasn't enjoying work. It was like living for nothing.


"I was at home, and in a dark place. My family had seen it. They'd probably seen it in the months and years coming up to it. I'd be sitting at home at the breakfast table with my parents and they're a different generation where you had that love of your dad by he'd never tell you or show his emotion. They're at the table, I'm sitting across the way from them, and they're crying. It was a tough place."

O'Mahony says that was "the moment I realised that I needed help". He ended up spending eight weeks at the Aiséirí treatment centre receiving therapy and counselling.

"My sister Nora, my godmother, came down - she was always very close to me," he says.

"I just knew I needed a lot of help. I knew I needed to step away from reality, society. Everything that was happening externally for years had crept in. I had a decision whether I wanted to go down a dark path or go on and get help. I sat into the car with Nora that morning and went on that journey to Aiséirí. I didn't look back since.

"Everybody deals with adversity in life. You need somebody in your side that's going to help you up when you fall down. I was very fortunate to have a loving and close family. It was them seeing a person that was in a broken state. When that helping hand was given to me, I took it.

"I was addressing everything that I hadn't addressed down through the years. I was a more open person. Before I went in there, I was a closed book. I have a deep, dark personality. I grew up a shy person. I'm an introvert. I still have that personality some bit with me. I wouldn't be the greatest to talk about things, but I'm a lot better than what I was.

"I went in there with a cloud hanging over my head, not knowing the person that I was. It's easy to say that I wasn't a nice person to be around. Coming out the gate, it changed my mindset with everything where I started to enjoy life more. I became more open to people. They probably saw a different side to me, that I wasn't always intense and keeping to myself. It was nice to go home on the Friday, meet my parents, and see the tears of joy."

During the show, O'Mahony's Kerry colleague Kieran Donaghy - one of his closest friends - admits regret that the panel didn't do more for him at the time.

"I can't say that we would have been really talking about it and going through it with him," says Donaghy.

"Really, at the time, you're just trying to figure out how to win, and how to win more. Probably didn't do a good enough job as a teammate during that time for him.

"There was a few of us aware [that he was in treatment]. I went up to visit him at one stage with a few of the other players. We were aware. It was tough time. That was the first time you would have said, 'This is far more than we thought'."

15 January 2023; Aidan O'Mahony of Rathmore celebrates after his side's victory in the AIB GAA Football All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Final match between Galbally Pearses of Tyrone and Rathmore of Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

More than a decade on, O'Mahony no longer accesses counselling. He maintains his mental health through exercise.

"Everyone has something, whether it is reading or anything like that, for me it is exercise," he said during a video call this week.

"Look, I have two young kids at home as well and I see the massive positivity and now it is my turn to be a role model for them. For me, looking back at that time, and even now, the old football player stigma is gone where, for me I played on the line, I played with an edge and I found that if I dropped my guard or told someone they needed counselling I would have seen it myself as a weakness.

"That was back then whereas now you have massive role models. You spoke about Padraig O’Hora there and these guys who freely speak about it and it is brilliant for young people.

"I am a community guard and I go into schools and give talks. It is a tough world we live in now with social media and all these things. It is very important for the young kids coming up, their role models - whether they are footballers, soccer players, it is important they talk.

"For me, fitness has been good for me. We live in a world where it is like a rat race at the moment, I know myself, I am working as a guard, I have my own S&C [business].

"It is busy but at the same time my priorities are my kids are first. I have retired from Rathmore at long last so the kids are my priority and I find unbelievable happiness in that."

See Also: Kerry Football Legend Excited By Move Into Hurling Management

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