Davy O'Connor: Depression stole me of confidence and self-belief - I was a waste of a tracksuitMon, Jan 21 2019
Davy O’Connor is a football coach who has worked with Shelbourne for the past four years. He also campaigns for mental health awareness and hosts the I Sprained My Mental Health podcast.
Last year, he took on the challenge of running ten marathons in ten days as part of the mental health support charity AWARE’s Endurance Challenge.
This year, O’Connor will run 247km in 72 hours, the number chosen to represent the 24/7 challenge mental health issues and mental illness can pose, beginning on Friday, April 26th, 2019.
It’s fitting that preseason comes in January, a long-established period of new beginning and self-relenting promises.
This preparatory stage for players and managers sees everyone at their most honest with renewed focus and excitement for what lies in wait beyond the dark nights and frosted windscreens at the harshest point of winter.
There’s no team selection, no one left disappointed because they’re sitting on the bench or not in the squad – just a level training field for those to try stake their claim early on.
With the exception of the hand-outs for off-season workouts in the lead up to the first night, it’s a time that hastens demand for all those involved at the highest level.
With that demand comes pressure, in which many can thrive upon. Because of depression, I didn’t. I couldn’t and as a result I struggled greatly in the early stages as an Airtricity League coach.
When you hold a position of responsibility at a club like Shelbourne FC, there’s external belief that you must be good, that you 'know your stuff' when it comes to football.
When Kevin Doherty took the job as Shels manager in 2014, he asked could I commit to working as a member of his backroom team.
Following promotion to the first team, and having worked with the club’s youth academy for many years, I made a conscious effort to avoid any conversation relating to any coaching prowess I was supposed to possess despite all my ambitions to work at the top.
I played down any plaudits, happy enough to just state I was 'helping out' and brushing over any detailed description of my role.
Asked by the chairman Joe Casey for personal detail for a press release on the club website, I requested he not mention me for fear of a scathing reaction from someone who might say I shouldn’t be there or that I didn’t belong there.
I already believed this myself and didn’t need anyone else’s confirmation. I wanted to love it, to embrace it fully with the endeavour that had taken me to that point.
A role as first team coach at my childhood club, not many fulfil that aspiration, but the darkness inside that had haunted me for years refused to allow me grasp the joy I wanted so badly to feel.
In the same way a cold or flu may stop someone from working to their full potential, I was also sick, with my mind the ailment that was holding me back.
In the lead up to preseason, negative thoughts were crushing me. I convinced myself I would not be able to support the manager in his new role in the manner that a first team coach should.
This was the memo themed with self-doubt and insecurity that my mind condition had etched inside my head, not just in football but in every area of my life for close to a decade: relationships, friendships, career.
By day, I work as a sales rep with the responsibility of developing business, negotiating with managers and building relationships, which was interesting because at that time I was struggling to build a relationship with myself.
I was still going through the motions following a very difficult period in my life by which the very thought of being alive had been overwhelming.
I allowed the situation to get that bad but, having worked on myself and crawled away from the lowest point of my life just a year previously, I was on the verge of relapse just when an opportunity to better myself on a sporting front arrived.
From work to training, I’d park away from everyone else if it was a bad day, taking a few minutes to blankly stare out the window.
Sometimes leaning my forehead against the steering wheel, telling myself repeatedly: ‘I can’t fucking do this.’
It was a role of responsibility I was not ready for: my body language showed it; my delivery showed it.
My voice constantly tripping up on words with a lack of assertiveness and nervous laughter to pretend that things were going great.
Depression stole me of my ambition because I allowed it to. It robbed me of confidence and self-belief. I was a waste of a tracksuit.
Five years on, I can look back with pride on my journey. I’m grateful to have experienced four great seasons with Shels’ first team, working under two fantastic management teams in Kevin Doherty/Johnny Martin and Owen Heary/Liam Kelly.
These people have zero tolerance for mediocrity and, in that environment, you learn how to handle yourself. Their professionalism inspires you to carry yourself more astutely.
A big part of my mental health progression has been learning to be open and honest about exactly where I’m at emotionally.
On top of seeking the help I needed, I had the courage to speak to both Kev and Owen about things when it mattered. Unsurprisingly, both were incredibly supportive.
In writing this piece, I implore those involved in the game to mind themselves.
As male and female players throughout the country lace up their boots in preparation for a new campaign, it’s important to keep count of mental expenditure day by day.
The mental health issues in Ireland are suffocating and it would be ignorant to think our players are immune to the intellectual and emotional difficulties that absolutely anyone may stumble upon in life.
Talk to your manager, to your captain, to someone you trust. Mind yourselves.