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brave In shining a light on his battle with depression, GAA star Shane Carty delivered a performance for the ages


Shane Carthy (left) during his appearance on The Late Late Show and during his time playing with Dublin.

Shane Carthy (left) during his appearance on The Late Late Show and during his time playing with Dublin.

Shane Carthy (left) during his appearance on The Late Late Show and during his time playing with Dublin.

SHANE CARTHY took a seat beneath the Late Late Show studio lights, opened the pages of his life to the nation, and brilliantly realised the ambition of every elite athlete.

In shining a light on his battle with depression, by inviting us into the Stygian darkness of the mental cell in which he was incarcerated for two years, the Dublin footballer delivered a performance that will live through the ages.

It was mesmerising, electrifying TV, a show-stealing portrayal of a silent killer that demanded an All-Star for unvarnished honesty and stupendous courage.

This (hopefully) is a year when the Olympic flame will blaze over Tokyo. It is earmarked also as a Euro finals summer.

A GAA Championship, the Ryder Cup and the Tour de France lurk somewhere on a horizon Covid continues to shift.

Yet, there will not be a more important, deeply affecting or braver display by an Irish sportsman or woman in any global arena in 2021 than Carthy’s Friday night tour de force.

Even if he never again steps into the Sky Blue uniform on a Croke Park summer Sunday, he leaves behind a body of work to equal the best of Brian Fenton or Stephen Cluxton.

That’s how unforgettable, important, hypnotising and life-affirming a message he delivered from the RTÉ couch.

Carthy’s words were pitch-perfect: It is okay to not be okay. It is not a weakness to say you are suffering.

And then a nugget of advice, both gentle and emphatic, a dispatch from a landmined war-zone he himself has crossed: "If you are suffering in silence, take the step and talk to somebody".

It may not be an exaggeration to say that Shane’s eloquent peeling back of the layers to reveal the suffocating chokehold clinical depression took on his world, along with his mapping of a route back to the sunlight, might save another’s life.

Now, there is a legacy.

His story began with a jolting few words from a young man who won an All-Ireland in 2013 as an 18-year-old reserve, the towering façade of his natural talent masking the crumbling foundations of a life buffeted by a torment he could not rationalise.

"I owe Dessie (Farrell) my life," Carthy told Ryan Tubridy, and a frisson ran through the deserted Montrose halls.

He proceeded to tell a story that will resonate with so many who have been adrift down the same bleak and claustrophobic alley.

Carthy talked of pulling into the train station at Portmarnock, a Niagara of tears bursting from inside, suicidal ideations flooding through him, a sense of being trapped in a junkyard car crusher, the walls of hopelessness closing in.

Promoted to the Dublin panel by Jim Gavin while still in secondary school, he offered a heart-rending recollection of those bewildering years, the myth of his idyllic existence in sharp contrast to his crushing, empty reality.

"I would sit in the car in the train station and cry for hours.

"I kept asking ‘why can’t I have the joy that everyone is having for me in my life’."

An immaculately sculpted physical specimen, yet, mentally, as brittle as a Faberge egg, he could feel himself being dragged under by the invisible enemy assaulting his mind.

"I was getting to a point of thinking I want no part in this world," he says softly.

He desperately wanted to tell somebody, to unlock the door and release all the pent-up torment, but he couldn’t.

His mother sensed, as only a mother can, that something was terribly amiss.

Her suspicions were confirmed when, on the morning of a Leinster Under-21 final in which he would be named man of the match, she found her son in convulsions of tears.

There was no life-changing conversation, that day. But the arm she threw around her boy was worth a billion dollars.

To a drowning kid, her love was a life-raft.

The conversation with Farrell, then his underage manager, a wise and bottomless well of empathy who has himself known the cold stare of depression, followed from that.

They met on a Monday morning in a Costa Coffee outlet in Santry: "People were having their breakfast, their morning coffee and I was crying for 45 minutes."

Eleven demanding but life-changing weeks in St Pat’s followed.

It brought home to Carthy the truth about his illness, how he was neither alone nor a freak: "I thought I was walking into a place of people in straitjackets headbutting walls."

What followed was “the most difficult 11 weeks I have ever faced in my life.

"I faced up to things I had put away for far too long.

"It was," he adds lyrically, "a rebooting of my mind."

At 26, an undergraduate course completed, Carthy began publicly speaking on depression in 2017.

"I wanted to step up on that pedestal to let people know that it is okay not to be okay."

He has written a book – “Dark Blue” – which, given Ireland’s suicide pandemic, the author’s unblinking honesty, boundless compassion and ultimately upbeat message of hope, should be compulsory reading.

Carthy admits he still has his bad days, though, mercifully, they don’t plumb anywhere close to the depths of those car-park visits.

On Friday, he looked a portrait of health.

The teenager who was unable to cherish his days as a Dub now longs to play in front of a teeming Hill 16, to savour the adrenalin of high-level competition course through his veins.

But, if he doesn’t, that’s okay too.

A citizen of the country of everyday life and its happy commotions, Shane Carthy wears a battle-ribbon more precious than any Celtic cross.

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