GAA stars should be aware there's a difference between depression and being too sensitive

GAA stars should be aware there's a difference between depression and being too sensitive

THE Velominati have a set of rules for life as a cyclist. There are lots of them, 95 in all. If pushed the Velominati could distill the essence of their creed down to one dictate. Everything comes back to Rule Five: harden the f**k up.

I think of Rule Five every time I read about another example of the “shocking” online abuse GAA players are suffering at the fingers of Ireland’s keyboard warriors. Cork footballers, in particular, had a rough ride on social media after their collapse to Kerry.

At stake, we are told, is the players’ mental health. Now, if any player suffers from depression and has serious mental health issues then they deserve sympathy and sensitivity. And help.

I would suggest that anybody in this state of mind should be getting treatment as a priority and should not be playing sport in front of television audiences in the hundreds of thousands. Instead they ought to be taking a break from the game for as long as it takes them to recover — much the same as they would do in the case of a physical injury.

There is a big difference, though, between those who have genuine mental health concerns and those that don’t but are using depression as a shield to bat away excessive criticism.

It can’t be pleasant to see your name dragged through the dirt on Facebook, Twitter and forums after your team has a bad afternoon, but it does a disservice to those with genuine mental health concerns to use the subject to dissuade barracking.

Usually, the riposte issued on behalf of players begins with the statement that “We’re amateur athletes.”

I fail to see what professionalism has got to do with it. Do pros get paid a certain amount to have less feelings? People who suffer poor mental health do so regardless of how much money they earn so don’t use amateur status as a reason why people should go easier on you.

Also, inter-county GAA is not amateur in the sense of the preparation (which we are told is of a professional level), nor is it amateur in the sense that spectators can bowl up to the field and watch for free. Folks pay entrance money or TV subscriptions/licence fees to see the games, they are going to give their views during and afterwards.

Some of the opinions will be sensible and sober. Some will be unbalanced, unfair, unhinged even.  Throw in the internet and the fact that people can say what they feel from a position of anonymity and you are guaranteed that some of the comments are going to be poisonous. But it’s up to you whether you want to drink that poison or not, so don’t feel like a victim.

Also, bear in mind that when the team plays well, the praise that comes your way will be equally over the top. That’s human beings for you — they are not known for their measured responses, especially when it comes to something they care deeply about such as sport. You enjoy the adulation and you have to suck up the abuse.

Everybody in public life gets online abuse. If you stick so much as one hair of your noggin above the parapet then it will get blasted off.

A lowly hack such as myself is used to being called everything from “a moron” to “an embarrassment” to “a pessimistic imbecile” and (my particular favourite, a working title for my memoirs in the parallel universe where I am a highly hack) “just a weird guy having a rant”.

I’m not going to pretend that all of this is water off a duck’s back. Whenever there is a stream of insulting comments below the line of an article (as there may well be on this one when it hits the web) it is not pleasant reading for the scribbler. After a while, though, you accept that this is just the way it is.

There are gratuitously insulting comments, a few nonsensical ones and often some criticism of yourself that you have to concede is on the money — the thought that all who comment on message boards or beneath articles are irrational screamers is a fairytale journalists like to tell each other.

Anyway, it’s not just lowly hacks that attract hostility. Most of the biggest talents/egos in the industry get slated beneath the line.

Similarly, the best players in any sport are subject to abuse, online and from the terraces. They have to deal with it, just like the average ones have to learn to cope too.

In the aftermath of Cork’s awful loss to Kerry a few weeks back, Conor Cusack tweeted this: “It would be wise of the keyboard warriors to remember that our real warriors, our players in the arena, wear more than their county jerseys.”

Now, Conor Cusack penned what was, for me at least, the most moving piece of writing in years last October. His blog on his relationship with depression moved me to tears more than once. If you are one of the few people yet to read it, you should.

You should also pay little heed to his above tweet. The analogy of sports people as warriors is ludicrously overwrought. It also, ironically, feeds into the mindset where fans get way too worked up about it all and vent their fury all over the internet when things don’t turn out as they’d hoped — which in turn upsets the players (not warriors) that Cusack seeks to protect.

Incidentally, could you imagine real warriors getting upset about Twitter comments?

“I sure am glad to have survived that axe-battle with the O’Moores, but @biffosabú says I’m shit and my hammer-bludgeoning technique has all the speed of a hallucinating shaman running from a crippled ox…”

“F***ing warriors on the ditch, don’t heed them Fionn.”

“But it’s affecting my mental health. I mean, it’s not just me, my sisters go on Twitter and they don’t need to be reading insulting stuff about my hammer-bludgeoning technique, they really take that to heart.”

“I see what you mean, let’s get onto the Gaelic Warriors Association and get them to put out a statement.”

What we need is less statements, less sensitivity of the masses and more help for those with real problems.

Trying to halt the tidal wave of bile that flows from the internet every day is as easy as trying to halt a real tidal wave. It’s an elemental force over which we have no control. Just get out of the way; seek the higher ground.

Don’t stand there shouting at it that if it doesn’t stop everybody is going to get cold and wet — that is one sure way to go under.