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'You've dealt with one of the hardest things life can throw at you when you're 14. Nothing can get much harder'

Ireland rugby star Eimear Considine shares her story, and opens up on the impact of her father’s tragic death.

I’VE NEVER MENTIONED it in any of my interviews because I didn’t want it to be the reason that I am a sportsperson, or that I am successful.

eimear-considine Ireland rugby star Eimear Considine. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A lot of people tend to have a story behind why they are where they are. I don’t want it to define me, and I don’t want to be known as that person or that’s the reason why I am here.

It’s a perfect opportunity, it’s about tackling your feelings and it’s about being an ambassador for your wellbeing.

It was a difficult time…

***

Eimear Considine has done this hundreds of times before, but this time it’s different. 

She walks into the room smiling, and prepares for yet another media interview. But this one is going to be like no other she has ever done.

This time around, she is going to share her personal story for the first time. A heartbreaking story of loss, but one that has made her the person she is today.

Before she delves into it, we’re shown a video.

“My biggest fear is losing somebody closest to me,” the Ireland rugby star says within.

“My Dad had a heart attack when I was 14, and he died in front of myself and my sister when we were on the beach.”

Considine opens up further in the touching Tackle Your Feelings video — complete with lovely graphics, uplifting comments and advice — and we learn something we never knew about the player, and person, we’re so used to seeing in the green jersey.

You can hear the raw emotion in her voice, but the Clare woman can’t help but smile every time she watches it, and realises how far she has come.

She doesn’t have to do this, but she’s doing it to help other people.

“It was difficult going back there but if it encourages one more person to take control of their mental wellbeing, well that’s the job done,” she tells The42. 

“As a secondary school teacher in my position as a sportsperson having gone through something like this, I think it was a perfect opportunity and I’m in a perfect position to be that role model for students, young people or anybody… even if you haven’t gone through something as traumatic as that.”

One can’t even imagine the pain of revisiting the day itself, and what unfolded as herself and her younger sister, Ailish — an Aussie Rules Premiership champion with Adelaide Crows — watched on, but Considine does so. 

“It kind of just seems like a blur,” she begins. “God, we were so young. Ailish was 13, I was 14 and my brother was in Australia, he was 23. It all just happened so fast…

“I think it happened at a good time, we were on Easter holidays so we had the time to reflect on it. Mam just kind of threw us into sport. I don’t remember really… yes, I was sad about it at the time, but I think sport was my way out.

“That was the most important thing: finding something that you enjoy doing. No matter what we did, it wasn’t going to bring him back so we had to move on with things you really enjoy, with people that you enjoy doing it with, and think of the positive things in your life.”

Hindsight is a great thing. The 28-year-old can look back on the tragedy differently now, and can acknowledge how it’s part of her journey, part of who she is.

eimear-considine-with-paige-randall-and-alecs-donovan Considine facing Wales in November. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

She can recognise that she has learned so much from it.

“It has taught me to control what you can control,” she explains. “In that way, my Mam controlled that. And it puts life into perspective that you’ve gone through something so sad and so awful, but you can be grateful for what you do have.

“I can acknowledge that it was difficult, but you can be grateful for the good things in your life in that I play rugby, and I have such an amazing support network and I have an amazing person in my Mam that got us through that.

“You have to take a step back and say, ‘Okay, I actually have all these amazing things going on.’”

But 14-year-old Eimear Considine, a prodigiously talented Gaelic football and camogie player, yet to discover her love for rugby, found that difficult to see. Understandably. 

She didn’t check in with herself and with others, as much as she would now, but she didn’t sweep the situation under the carpet either. 

“I didn’t bottle it up,” the full-back notes, recalling those teenage years. “If someone asked me about my Dad, I’d say my Dad passed away when I was 14. People are always like, ‘I’m very sorry,’ and they get kind of awkward about it. It’s like, ‘No look, I’m fine about it.’

“I never hid the fact that it happened. It’s difficult to speak about but…”

Her voice breaks slightly, and her eyes gloss over.

But she gathers herself.

“It’s difficult to speak about, but I never bottled it up and I never hid it. We always spoke about it in that that’s what happened, that’s the way it worked out. Nothing we can do is going to change that.”

aflw-crows-cats Eimear's younger sister, Ailish, is currently playing in the AFLW. Source: AAP/PA Images

Her mother, Kay, who she mentions several times throughout, rallied her family in the wake of Cyril’s death.

“The most amazing person ever,” Considine beams, sharing Kay’s motto before every game: be as good as your mother thinks you are, because she thinks we’re the best… even if we’re not.

“It’s not about being the best. It’s about being your best,” she adds.

With Eimear starring for Adam Griggs’ side on the international stage after her meteoric rise through the rugby ranks, and Ailish impressing in the AFLW, their mother could not be prouder.

“She’s a ball of emotion these days, but she’s great,” Eimear smiles.

Not only has that experience from their teenage years shaped the sisters into the people, and phenomenal athletes that they are today, Kay’s influence has been huge.

“We drove on from there. It had a kind of a positive impact in that you learned to be resilient, you learned to face challenges.

“You’ve probably dealt with one of the hardest things life can throw at you when you’re 14 years of age, so nothing can really get much harder than that.

“It did shape us, but it still doesn’t take away hard work and dedication and commitment. To be a sportsperson you still have to have those skills and those traits. I think they came from an amazing role model like my mother who instilled that in us, and who controlled what we could control.

Screenshot 2020-02-17 at 20.31.33 Ailish and Eimear (right) after winning the 2019 Clare senior championship final with Kilmihil. Source: Eimear Considine Instagram.

considines Kay, Ailish and Eimear after last year's AFLW Grand Final in Oz. Source: Ailish Considine Instagram.

“We could control how often we trained and how well we trained, our attitude and our schoolwork. She expected those high standards, and as a result of what happened, took control of that and drove us to be who we are. In a way, yes, it did shape us — it could have shaped you in a negative way, and you do see that. It shaped us in a positive way.”

Again, that’s hindsight though.

While Eimear drove on and threw herself into sport, it was later in life that she really struggled. She was so busy that she shut others out, and was unaware of the downward spiral she was on.

“You can communicate happiness but you can also communicate sadness, and it’s not a weakness,” she notes. “I think I saw it as a weakness.

“I didn’t want the coaches to think that I wasn’t managing, I didn’t want my principal to see that I wasn’t managing it. I tried to do too much and ended up doing nothing good.

“In hindsight, I had burnout and I didn’t realise it at the time. But had I just taken a step back, I would have seen it. It was difficult.”

This was when she was 25 or 26.

“I didn’t enjoy it,” she concedes on her relationship with sport then. “I worked too much and I trained too much and I had no balance at all in my life with anything.

“I didn’t want to go for a run, I didn’t want to go to the gym. The idea of being fit and healthy, I hated it. Even though I know myself now, going for a run would have cleared my head, or going to the gym would have gotten rid of my anger or whatever. At the time, I just was anti-doing that.

eimear-considine On the ball for Munster. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I just took time away, I took about three months off to do things that I enjoyed until I wanted to go back. I think you need to realise that when you stop loving it, that’s when you need to take a step back and be like, ‘What is wrong? This is sport, it’s enjoyment, it’s my free time.’ If you’re not enjoying your free time, you need to have a look at yourself.”

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Had she been aware of the issue of burnout, and had she been more comfortable in talking to others — whether that be coaches, teammates or colleagues — and made more time for conversation, she never would have gotten to that stage. When people don’t know what’s going on, they can’t help.

It’s so important to have a support network and to talk, whether that be through an extremely difficult time like Considine’s experience, or whether that be on a day where you’re just feeling a little stressed or down. 

The Dublin-based PE and Irish teacher is really passionate about the new Tackle Your Feelings schools mental wellbeing pilot programme she’s launching, and mobile phone app in which you can journal and log your mood and feelings.

It raises awareness with the individual, and offers advice on how to deal with stress, work on self-care, and managing relationships.

“That would have been really, really helpful when I was 14 years of age,” she continues. “It’s so difficult being a teenager, these days especially. And research has shown that parents are worried about their children’s wellbeing.”

One in four Irish children have missed school due to issues around their mental wellbeing and that 68% of parents agree that schools prioritise their child’s physical health over their mental health.

But the one the statistic that jumps out to Considine is that 86% of parents believe that more needs to be done in school to have their child take control of their mental wellbeing.

The app can help with that, she enthuses.

eimear-considine Considine has grown into a star of the Irish team. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“You go on it and the first thing you can get is a smiley face. You check in with your mood. Without even realising it, you’ve just acknowledged how you’re feeling.

“It might encourage people to talk, and make people aware that it’s okay to talk. If that’s one thing that I’d like to pass on, it’s to get people to talk more and to find that support network, find that somebody.

“More does definitely need to be done in schools for mental wellbeing. Obviously physical health is very important but mental health is equally as important, and it shouldn’t be forgotten about.”

For Considine herself now, communication has been massive in staying on top of her mental health and managing her load. The Irish team use an app to log their mood, sleep, stress levels and fatigue and she finds that extremely beneficial.

She makes time for her friends no matter how busy her schedule is, and she’s learned from her past mistakes in recognising red flags.

Taking time to herself, mindfulness and self-care are hugely important. As is gratitude.

“There’s times where you get bogged down with how busy you are but if you actually take a step back and say, ‘Okay, I’m glad that I’m busy because I have a full-time job, I have amazing friends that I have to meet and I play rugby for Ireland.’ You’re like, ‘Okay, this is great, stop complaining about it and be grateful for what you have.’

“Sometimes getting away from rugby is really important as well, because your whole life, especially at the moment, gets consumed with Six Nations, training and rugby talk – it’s really important to have people to talk to.

“Had I known that before I probably wouldn’t have got burnout. I wouldn’t have been unhappy with rugby and with work at the time. I’ve learned from that mistake.”

eimear-considine Today, Rugby Players Ireland and Zurich have launched the new Tackle Your Feelings Schools mental wellbeing programme and App as part of their #ImTakingControl campaign. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As our conversation comes to a close, she’s reminded of how much of a positive impact she’s going to have on others by opening up, and sharing her story. 

And she points out another stat; that 84% of parents agree that seeing role models like rugby players ‘taking control’ of their mental wellbeing empowers their child to start talking.

“That’s evidence there… proof,” she smiles, adding how much seeing an international athlete speaking out about this, or an app such as this one, would have helped her when she was a teenager.

“We didn’t have social media when I was younger so I didn’t have the opportunity to see people speak about things like that, it wasn’t as common,” she concludes. “I think the one good thing about social media is it’s creating a platform to do this, and to make people more aware that there is help out there.

“It definitely would have helped when I was younger, to make it okay… not that it wasn’t okay for me to talk about it, but just to normalise it and make it that it’s not just me.

“I’m not the only person that’s lost their father at 14. It’s normal, and a lot of people are going through losses.”

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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