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Talking About Depression Has Only Been Positive For Tyrone's McNamee

Pictured is Tyrone footballer Ronan McNamee ahead of this year’s Darkness Into Light, the annual fundraising event organised by Pieta & supported by Electric Ireland, which takes place next Saturday, May 6th. Over 100,000 people will come together across 200 locations on the most important sunrise of the year as communities across Ireland rally to bring hope to people who have been impacted by suicide. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
By PJ Browne Updated
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Ronan McNamee recalls walking through the door of the Tara Centre in Omagh around six months ago. The Tyrone footballer and a friend had run a fundraiser for the facility and he was there to hand over the proceeds.

For McNamee, it was meaningful to give back to a place which had helped him in a time of need. In early 2016, while suffering from serious depression, the Tyrone All-Ireland winning footballer attempted to take his own life. Mickey Harte, who at the time was Tyrone's manager, set him up with a counsellor from the Tara Centre.

"It was a bit strange going back in the door when I hadn't been in it for five or six years, and it was a different reason that you were going in this time. It was nice to address the girls that were there," says McNamee, speaking ahead of this year's Darkness Into Light, the annual fundraising event organised by Pieta and supported by Electric Ireland.

'Only for him, I wouldn't be playing with Tyrone'

McNamee says Harte will "probably never know" the full extent of his importance in helping the Aghyaran man get over his troubles.

"I don't think it's something you could explain," says McNamee.

"Only for him, I wouldn't be playing with Tyrone. I likely wouldn't be here, to be brutally honest. I wanted to leave and was planning on getting out of Ireland, maybe going to America or going out to my brother in Australia. My plan was just to leave everything at home as regards any issues that you were having, that you could just take off and leave them.

12 August 2018; Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with Ronan McNamee before the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Monaghan and Tyrone at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"I remember him saying to me that regardless of where you go, you're going to be taking them with you. It's probably something that I never, ever thought [about].

"Obviously, when you think about it now, of course you're going to be taking them with you. It's baggage that you don't necessarily bag up but you're going to be taking it. I wasn't thinking along them lines. I was just thinking about getting out of Dodge and being away.

"I remember him saying to me one time that it's none of my business what other people think of me. I was just fixated on what other people... were they judging you? You were always worried about the opinions of other people. That was probably the worst part of it.

"I remember he said that and you sort of stripped it back and thought about it, it made a lot of sense. You were just taking too much on in regards to worrying and trying to keep other people happy instead of looking after number one.

"Only for him... He set me up with counselling and would have been meeting me every other week just for a coffee and a chat. It wasn't even a chat about me. It was just football talk, or anything.

"In and around them stages, at the start of 2016, I hadn't won anything worthwhile with Tyrone - I had a couple of McKenna Cups but that team hadn't broke through. My plan was to head away.

"Tyrone went on to win Ulster in 2016, and 2017, and were beaten in an All-Ireland final in 2018. If you'd left, and all those things happened while you were away, it would have been harder to deal with.

"Only for him, and his son Michael - who I was friendly with, he was the physio... I'll be forever indebted to them to be brutally honest."

1 November 2019; Tyrone footballers Ronan McNamee, left, and Cathal McShane with their PwC All-Star awards during the PwC All-Stars 2019 at the Convention Centre in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile


In late 2019, three weeks after being named on the All-Star football team, McNamee spoke for the first time publicly about his depression and suicide attempt in an interview with Cahair O'Kane in The Irish News. After its publication, McNamee was "completely inundated with messages".

"The amount of positivity that I got from it and the amount of people that reached out saying that they had their own problems and could relate to mine was rewarding in a way," he says.

"Personally for me still, it's not something that I would talk about often enough. Or enough in a way that when I do speak about it still I would be uncomfortable speaking about it.

"But, with time, when you do speak about it more you get more comfortable. You tend to park it a lot of the time and then whenever you speak about it it reignites a lot of the troubles you did have. And whenever you sit back and look at where you were and how close things were to folding on you, then it annoys you that way.

"So there was a lot of positivity that came from it and I feel that it probably did help a lot of people. If it helped one it would have been worth it, but I feel like from the messages I received it helped a lot of people."

"Whenever I did speak about it, the only thing I ever got on the field was positive from the opposition, you know, 'Fair play to you' - stuff like that. It's something you wouldn't forget if you did get shit for it. I don't ever remember getting anything negative thrown at me for it.

"When I was chatting to Cahair, I had that feeling in my head that people would deem me a pity party, and hence why I didn't ever, ever address it publicly.

"You know how people are, especially on social media, it's some man on Twitter, 'Tinhat123', who would have plenty to say about what your opinions and what you're going through, and they mightn't be brave enough to give their own name. The likes of that always sat in my head until you get to a stage where you don't really care.

"As regards sledging, it's definitely not something you would hear as much. Slagging on the likes of boots, probably, the more laughable things.

"On personal things, not so much. You would probably hear it more from the stand on the personal side of things. I've heard plenty from the stands, not necessarily thrown at me but thrown at other people in the vicinity. Definitely, I've heard loads of that but you can't measure yourself off idiots."

McNamee no longer attends counselling sessions, feeling he's now in a "better place".

"Probably the fact that what I deemed to be massive issues weren't," he says when asked about the benefits of talking about his troubles.

"Whenever you address them and looked at them, they weren't problems."

Each year, Darkness Into Light helps raise essential funds and enables Pieta to continue providing free of charge suicide prevention, intervention and bereavement support to people of all ages across Ireland. Last month, Electric Ireland extended is sponsorship of Darkness Into Light for another three years up to 2025. To sign up to this year’s event, visit www.darknessintolight.ie #DIL2023 #BrighterTogether

See Also: How Ursula Jacob Made Her Senior Inter-County Camogie Debut At 14

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