Wednesday 22 November 2017

Mikey happy ever' after

Mikey Drennan, pictured in action for Shamrock Rovers last season. Photo: Sportsfile
Mikey Drennan, pictured in action for Shamrock Rovers last season. Photo: Sportsfile
Mikey Drennan (r) is pictured with his Evergreen teammate Neil Andrews after beating Boyle Celtic in the FAI Junior Cup semi-final at Sligo’s Showgrounds last month. Photo: Sportsfile

As a young player he would have had dreams about playing in the Aviva Stadium in a green and white jersey.

If that wasn't to be in the Ireland kit in a senior international, then an FAI Cup final in the Shamrock Rovers gear would have done.

Next weekend, Kilkenny lad Mikey Drennan - still only 23 - will indeed trot out at the Dublin 4 venue in green and white, in this case the hooped colours of his local side Evergreen FC.

They take on Dublin outfit Sheriff YC in the final of the FAI Junior Cup and it's a big deal for both clubs but especially for Evergreen in their first-ever appearance on this stage.

"They are talking about 1,000 people from here going from Kilkenny up to Dublin for the final, we have people who aren't even involved in football who are making the trip up, just to watch us play," says Drennan.

"It's a big game for us as Sheriff are a good side and used to these finals and we're not. But the main focus for me is on enjoying it all again."

Because for a long spell former Aston Villa man Drennan - despite living what seemed on the outside like a dream lifestyle as a professional footballer - was not enjoying it, not enjoying life.

Next week is the first anniversary of his decision to publicly explain his departure from Shamrock Rovers, Drennan walking away from his contract there and moving home to Kilkenny as he was dealing with depression, a condition he'd been battling for three years.

Drennan explained that a 4-0 win over Bohemians last year was the trigger for his exit: despite his team trouncing their closest rivals, he found himself crying after the win, and knew things were not right.

Twelve months on and Drennan is in a good place. Enjoying the day job in retail in his native Kilkenny and his time with Evergreen, maybe the chance to tap away in hurling with his local club once Evergreen's season is over.

"I can just be myself here. No one sees me the way I was judged in England, I am just Mikey. I'm not pretending or hiding stuff, everyone knows what's going on with me now. We meet up with the squad and go for a bite to eat, we have a laugh, we're a close bunch," he told The Herald.

"When I was in England, and in Dublin with Rovers, I was trying to enjoy it. But I really am enjoying it now I am back home and I look forward to things. It's different, at this level there isn't the same level of expectation or responsibility, it's more about relaxing and enjoying the sport, enjoying yourself."

Drennan articulately expressed his feelings on his decision to leave Rovers a year ago.

But mental health in football is still a topic, as seen by the reaction to Aaron Lennon's case last week, particularly the decision by one British newspaper to describe him as "£65,000 a week footballer Lennon", implying that rich and apparently healthy footballers should have nothing to be depressed about.

"It doesn't matter if you are in a nine-to-five job or you are Aaron Lennon on a big contract, you can suffer with mental health issues but it needs to be tackled better, maybe the Aaron Lennon issue is a wake-up call and things will get done now," says Drennan.

"Money doesn't make you happy, being a multi-millionaire footballer won't guarantee happiness. We know that. The money I got from football offered me security but you need to be happy and I wasn't.

"You can have all the money in the world but you can't take it with you to the grave. It's all about being happy in what you are doing."

Drennan says he is regularly contacted by others in relation to depression.

"It was coming for a long time, I had to do what I did. And I know I was better off to go public and let people know what I was feeling," he says.

"It makes it easier for me to keep talking about it as I still get contact from people who say I have helped them, by speaking out.

"It's good to know that others have got some good from it. I get calls from people, or texts from parents saying 'you helped my son get through some hard times', people are more aware of mental health now," he added.

Calls from League of Ireland clubs may come in the summer and Drennan will consider his options then.

"But before all that, there's a Cup to be won and we want to bring that trophy home to Kilkenny," he smiles.

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