Addiction GAA star Oisín McConville reveals he took 'every penny from mother's bag' while gambling
Addiction saw him fall €42k into debt at Cheltenham, take out a €20k credit union loan to bet on a horse and on the brink of ending his life
While in the grip of his gambling addiction, the one sport GAA star Oisín McConville refused to bet on was Gaelic football, his "sanctuary".
His addiction saw him fall €42,000 into debt at Cheltenham, take out a €20,000 credit union loan to bet on a horse and take every last penny from his mother's handbag.
The now 46-year-old former Armagh star player has admitted he was on the brink of ending his life when his addiction spiralled out of control on the streets of London in 1999.
In his own frank way, he said: "I was a compulsive gambler and a compulsive liar.
"It was in 1999 and I was after getting an operation done on my back over in England.
"I was on my own and I was staying in the hotel, and I was not allowed to fly until the next morning and two doors down was the bookies, so I thought that was a good way to spend an afternoon in London.
"I had £500 in my pocket and the first thing I did when I went into the bookies was to get it changed into tenners and fivers.
"And I put £15 rolled up in a tight wad in my jeans as that was the taxi money to get to the airport and I won't gamble it.
"But I lost the rest of the money, and for the first time I physically started to shake and there was eight or nine other men in the bookies, and I knew they were laughing at me.
"So, there was nothing else for me to do than to get out the door.
"But I got the £15 and put it on a horse and I then thought about crawling to the door because I was not sure if my legs would move.
"I somehow got back to the hotel and set the alarm for 3.30am.
"I got up and walked eight and a half miles back to the airport for the flight at 7am.
"But on the way it was the lowest I ever felt, and I felt deeply embarrassed.
"Every large vehicle that passed I told myself I was going to throw myself in front of it and end it all.
"Somehow, I made it to the airport because I had the thought of Gaelic football in my head, and I promised myself that I would tell my mother about how I felt.
"When I got back home, I felt the tears coming and I felt so low, somebody collected me at the airport, and I got home, and I went into the kitchen and said please tell her and then I said I will tell her in a minute.
"But when my mum got up and left the kitchen, I took every single penny that she had in her bag and 20 minutes later I was back gambling."
The Crossmaglen native said it was an insecure childhood full of doubt and a lack of self-esteem that propelled him into the world of gambling when he was just 14 years old.
The habit gave a youth who never talked about his emotions a feeling of self-worth and a buzz that deteriorated into a most self-destructive compulsive illness.
During these bleak years Gaelic football was one of the few things McConville would not bet on.
"The reason I never did it was because football was a great release from all the carnage that was going in on my life," he said.
"When I went training, I left the mobile phone in the car so nobody could contact me about a horse or just anything and I could not contact them.
"Football was my sanctuary from all the other madness in my life.
"I felt a huge freedom to concentrate on something that was good and pure.
"Sometimes I went training because there was food at the end of it and I might not have eaten for 48 hours.
"Football made me feel that I could give something good back - it made me feel that I belonged, where I could express myself and where I actually had value.
"And that is why I never gambled on Gaelic football.
"Gaelic football, at that time, was the thing that was keeping me alive."
He said his addiction was "completely hidden" so he would not gamble in the same bookies and when he met someone on the street after losing everything he had "I would nearly be giving people a high five".
"Two of my Armagh teammates knew about my addiction and gave me money and never asked for it back, all they asked was for me to get help.
"My gambling damaged so many people - most of all my family, and it was when I confided in them honestly that I started on the road to recovery.
"And then I went to Cuan Mhuire (addiction treatment centre) in Galway and Gamblers Anonymous which was the greatest help to me, and it is important that you seek this help."
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