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'With mental health, football is reactive'

Having emerged clean from alcoholism and survived times of depression, ex-Ireland player Keith Treacy is keen to reach out to those let down by the football industry

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Former Ireland international Keith Treacy pictured at home in Dublin in 2016

Former Ireland international Keith Treacy pictured at home in Dublin in 2016

Former Ireland international Keith Treacy pictured at home in Dublin in 2016

He was sitting in the bath when it hit him that he was depressed and needed help.

"My wife was at me for years to speak to someone," is how Keith Treacy, the former Ireland international and Premier League player, recalls his lowest ebb, when he was back home in Dublin after his cross-channel career ground to a halt.

"We were at breaking point, probably about to get divorced, everything was going wrong, and I remember the day. I was having a bath and my mind snapped. I was in the room but my mind wasn't, I snapped and started crying and everything came in on me.

"My wife came up and asked what was wrong, I just said, 'I need help'. It was only then that I accepted it, the penny dropped that day, in the bath.

"I had accepted all this stuff, having a sore head on a Monday, not being able to go into work, but once I stepped back from that circle and I was able to see I had a problem, all the addictions, gambling, sex addiction, drink, it all came in and hit me at once."

Interest

Now, Treacy is in a good place in his life, stability at home and excitement from his two-year-old son, Teddy. Still only 32, he could opt to play football again and recently had a call from a League of Ireland club expressing interest in him for next season.

He's also working, three days a week, as a landscape gardener, the Dubliner well aware that well-paid Premier League footballers (and he was one of those, for a spell) tend to pay others to work in their gardens, not the other way around.

"Back in the day, I had the house with the big garden and the ponds and the swimming pool and the double garages. But they are just material things. I never thought I'd be out working in someone else's garden but it keeps me sane," he says.

Treacy has been open about his battles with addiction and depression over the last three years and that's why he was eager to talk again this week. He wants to use his YouTube channel as a medium for those who are battling with similar issues to come and talk.

"I understand the hypocrisy of me going on about social media being bad and then using YouTube, but I feel you need some sort of social media to reach people today. It's the early days of it, we're still setting it up, but we'll get there," he says. "There is such a lack of help out there, for players who do not make the grade initially and come back from England and find themselves no longer in love with football.

"Lads like Graham Burke have done well when they come back but others are struggling and they need someone to turn to. But the only people they can turn to are the people already in their structure.

"If you approach the PFA, you are sent to a company who are paid by the PFA, the club know you are in contact with a therapist so there are question marks over you.

"And the only people you can really talk to are people who are not associated in any way with a club, people who can talk your language, who have been through it and understand you. So I just wanted to put myself out there for anyone who is struggling with these issues."

Treacy - who played for Blackburn Rovers, Preston, Burnley and Barnsley and was capped by Ireland six times in a career which lasted from 2006 to 2014 - is adamant that, even though football has opened up to mental health issues, the cards are still stacked against the player.

"The game has moved on a bit but in terms of mental health, football has always been reactive, not proactive. Why wait until someone is sitting in the bath, crying, to understand you need help? I didn't know where to turn. I went to the PFA in England, they sent me to see someone but I didn't trust the system."

He recalls one incident, at Blackburn Rovers, where he says he "unloaded" to a sports therapist hired by the club, which included some criticism of the manager. His reward, within days, was to be sent out on loan.

"And I traced it back to what I had said to the therapist and him relaying what I had said. After that, why should any footballer trust anyone within the system as they are being paid by the club?" Treacy says.

For Treacy, drink was the cause of so many problems but was also rooted in the game then. "Everything for me was centred around alcohol. Going off, betting £800 on a horse, those silly things came into my head when I was drinking. I would go missing for two or three days, because I had the funds to do it and I was able to lie my way out of trouble.

"The first managers I played for were Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes, Sam Allardyce and Paul Ince, they didn't mind the players having a drink, and there was a real drinking culture at Blackburn at the time.

"When I went to Preston [2010] I had Darren Ferguson who challenged me on it and we fell out. But he went, then we had Phil Brown as manager, he said more than once, 'I don't care what you do during the week, once you are ok on a Saturday'.

"I was four or five years into a pro career where I was doing quite well but I was drinking, it was to my detriment as I was using drink as a crutch, to deal with stuff, and so early in my career. When I got to Burnley I wanted to be more professional for Sean Dyche but every time I had a setback, I'd have a drink."

At Burnley, Treacy clashed with manager Eddie Howe, even though Howe tried to send Treacy to Tony Adams' Sporting Chance clinic to deal with his alcoholism, while Dyche tried to help. He found Dyche to be "open and caring" but he still couldn't be honest about his self-doubt.

He feels players can be damaged by clubs, "being pressured into not playing for your country, or being pressured into having a surgery you shouldn't have". And he also knows how agents can let down players: "I was with one big agency but I didn't see my agent for months on end."

Stability

He now enjoys stability and credits his wife for his upturn. "If I hadn't met Leanne and if she hadn't stuck by me, I have no idea where I'd be. But players out there today don't always have that person in their life," he says.

But he also admits the warning signs should have been seen by those around him. "I wanted to come home so many times but the fear I had was of being a failure, of letting other people down. I am three years sober but it was a very hard road and my wife had to take me kicking and screaming down that road. They say when you hit rock bottom there's nowhere else to go but I felt I hit rock bottom six or seven times.

"I could have come home three years earlier if I'd not been so afraid and if there is some player in that position now, I'm available to talk to him, because you can't always rely on your club or the PFA, I am here to help anyone who needs help. Therapy gets you to understand that no one will do it for you, you have to get out of your rut and make things better for yourself."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised here, contact the Samaritans Ireland 24-hour freephone on 116 123 or Aware's freephone helpline 1800 80 48 48


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