'It has become more intrinsic within the GAA... Gambling is the promise of a better life'

Addiction counsellor Alan Martin speaks to The42 about his work with gambling addicts and a motion going before GAA Congress about sponsorship.

ADDICTION COUNSELLOR ALAN Martin sees a familiar scene unfold when new patients come through the doors of the Cuan Mhuire treatment centre in Galway for the first time.

Alan Martin Alan Martin Source: Alan Martin

The individual, who has been broken and battered by the addiction, is followed closely by family members who are overcome with shock.

They had no clue. There were no symptoms or warning signs. There was no physical evidence of the scourge. And there’s no defined timeline that will determine how long it takes to conquer it.

Martin’s job requires him to understand the circumstances that led each victim to this point, and help them rehabilitate their lives.

Cuan Mhuire has five treatment centres located around Ireland, and the Galway branch caters for people suffering from alcohol and gambling addictions.

Martin estimates that of the 96 people currently being treated Cuan Mhuire in Galway, around 12 are trying to break free from a gambling addiction. Some of these are athletes ‘involved in some level of sport’ Martin explains to The42.

This weekend, GAA Congress will vote on a motion in relation to the sponsorship links between the GAA and betting companies.

The exact wording of Motion 1 reads:

“Sponsorship by a betting company of any competition, team, playing gear or facility is prohibited.”

Various players from both codes in the GAA have spoken publicly about their battle with this addiction in the past. Former Armagh footballer Oisín McConville and Galway hurler Davy Glennon are among those to have spoken about the time they spent in Cuan Mhuire on their road to recovery.

Oisin McConville celebrates after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Incidentally, McConville’s club Crossmaglen has been sponsored by a betting company for over a decade, and if the above motion passes, that will have to change.

Other well known GAA figures including retired Offaly footballer Niall McNamee and Tyrone’s Cathal McCarron have also opened up about their previous gambling difficulties.

“What I discovered more and more,” says Martin, “is that these lads are looking for a high and a buzz from the sports field. They lead a healthy life and when they come off the sports field, they’re kind of left feeling a bit somewhat empty and they’re looking for some buzz or that chase and it might be a small gamble that might start them off.

“And it builds up over the years.

“It has become more intrinsic within the GAA, and with mental health and gambling, they’re so attached.

“There’s so much depression and mental health, these lads are under so much pressure to perform well all the time. And if they don’t perform, they tend to get a bit down or a bit whatever within themselves and they look to escape from that. So, any kind of addiction is a form of escapism and it’s wrong.”

“They love the buzz they’re getting, they love the attention they’re getting, particularly those who are high achievers and doing well. And they are healthy, they are fit, they’re constantly looking for this buzz.

And it can be found in so many other ways. But when you’re promoting on your cameras or on your t-shirts… gambling is the promise of a better life.

“It’s the promise that you can turn whatever little money you have into a lot of money if you’re lucky or if you’re smart enough, and it doesn’t work. They’re [gambling companies] not in business to lose money.”

Niall McNamee Niall McNamee. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Martin’s background in counselling was mainly focused on alcohol addiction. He managed a transition house while living in New York, and after 23 years of working in the bar and restaurant industry, he decided to move home to Ireland and study counselling more deeply.

The Cavan native was always interested in that area, and began working with the Galway branch of Cuan Mhuire, where he was exposed to the impact of gambling addiction for the first time in his life.

“I didn’t understand it as an addiction,” he says of his earlier misconceptions about the condition.

“I didn’t see it as an illness or a disease and I wouldn’t have understood it.

I saw it as a choice and wouldn’t have understood how it manifested in the person and how it progresses and over the years of working with gamblers, it just became apparent to me how they get so hooked on it.”

2002 All-Ireland winner McConville is involved in counselling work now, having managed to overcome his addiction.

He said on a recent edition of the Second Captains podcast that he believes that gambling in the GAA is quite possibly worse than it is in other sports, a theory which Martin would agree with.

Unlike other addictions, there is no physical evidence of a gambling problem on a person’s face. Martin explains that aside from some possible mood swings and perhaps some elements of depression, there are no symptoms for loved ones to watch out for in relation to gambling.

Martin suspects that gambling always had a presence in the GAA which gradually escalated into something more sinister and dangerous over the years.

“What do people do after games, where do they always congregate? It was always in pubs and bars. The whole activity around matches always involved going drinking afterwards and partying.

“The new generation of GAA players we have coming up are super fit, they’re into all this healthy stuff that they really have to deprive themselves of any of this drinking and all that kind of stuff.

“Gambling is something that no-one else will notice, so they’re getting their escapism and their buzz from gambling.

“I think it was always there on a lower level and I’d say the reason for that was that people had to walk into a bookies, write down a bet on a slip and hand it into the bookies with the money. If any kind of habit was developing, your family would see or they would hear that you’re in the bookies. So a lot of it was quite managed and manageable.

Your whole privacy is gone now. Gambling is beginning to pretty much go underground an awful lot. It’s all online stuff now. The days of lads walking into bookies with a pen or a pencil on a bit of paper, that’s all gone.”

The treatment process for gambling at Cuan Mhuire consists of various different therapy sessions, mostly in groups. They also have an after care facility for those whose recovery is still going well after they leave the centre.

Watching people rebuild their lives is a rewarding part of Martin’s work and the staff make the whole process affordable for people who need their help.

They have also established links with the GAA to try and tackle the addiction among members of the association.

A view of the Congress An image from the 2017 GAA Congress. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Martin hopes that the voters at GAA Congress will pass the aforementioned motion, which was submitted by Ard Chomhairle, although it is understood that it is likely to be successful.

He concedes that society is saturated with gambling promotion, and is therefore impossible for people to avoid. But having witnessed the devastation that gambling can inflict on a family, he is confident that approving this motion would be a positive step for the organisation.

“They’re [betting companies] in business to make money, that’s their sole purpose and they make a fortune out of it.

“There’s so much money in it and people don’t look at the consequences and the suffering that goes on behind the gambling. Even though there’s big money in it in terms of promotion and stuff like that, I think it should be taken off the field.

People will be able to see it for what it is. It’s a false sense of hope and a false sense of promise. The whole thing is to lure you in and so many people are susceptible to it.”

For more information on the Cuan Mhuire centres around Ireland, visit their website

You can also contact Gamblers Anonymous Ireland.

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