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'I'd be going back to my normal life and the phone calls from people that I owed money to'

Oisín McConville spoke to the media today to promote a service which helps people with gambling addictions.

Updated Apr 28th 2021, 3:57 PM

OISÍN MCCONVILLE SAYS that a campaign which highlights gambling addiction is valuable for those seeking help, particularly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

aib-the-hidden-problem-launch Oisín McConville regularly uses his voice to raise awareness about gambling addiction. Source: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

McConville has opened up about his struggles with gambling addiction in the past and is are both active in using his voice to raise awareness about the disease.

Along with Niall McNamee, who also suffered from a gambling addiction, McConville spoke to the media today to promote Extern Problem Gambling, a service which provides support for those affected by gambling.

Armagh’s 2002 All-Ireland winner McConville echoes that view, and also says that helplines can be the difference in saving someone’s life.

“The fact that it’s at crisis point means that you could be talking about the loss of a family home or something like that. You could be talking about severe financial difficulties.

“But also, huge emotional upheaval. And I think a lot of times people just aren’t willing to share that with a family member. And, as you say, the buffer zone between that could be a number, talking to someone on the other end of a line, to make sense of where exactly they are at.

“There’s a massive piece in this about sorting out your finances. But there’s also a massive piece in this sometimes about just damage limitation, keeping someone alive for a certain amount of time.

“I know that sounds dramatic, but that sometimes is how important this stuff is to keep someone alive and to point out to them that this sort of thing can be sorted out.”

Problems with gambling have worsened in society and the pandemic has exacerbated gambling habits further for some sufferers. 

McConville explains that Covid-19 restrictions has increased the contact time that addicts have with their family members, which in turn leaves them with limited opportunities to hide their gambling problem.

“If I was to go gamble today,” he says, “and come back to my home I’ve an opportunity to gather myself in between after losing a huge amount of money to get back into that house and try to function in a normal sort of way. 

oisin-mcconville Oisín McConville [file photo]. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Whereas if it’s going on at home it’s a lot tougher to do that and I think the guard is dropped.”
Commenting on the relationship between elite athletes and gambling, McConville relays a statistic which claims that those who play a competitive team sport are three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

“I think it’s a big part of the culture and there’s a couple of reasons for that,” he adds.

“One of the reasons is that if you’re playing any sort of high level sport, then alcohol and drugs are usually taking a major back seat, especially during the season. And people see gambling as a harmless pastime if that’s the best way to put it.

“And, don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-gambling, and for a lot of people it is a harmless pastime and it’s something that some people can do socially.

“But once it gets a grip of you then that’s where the problems start to manifest themselves. I would have said that the teams that I played on had a gambling culture within them.

“It’s the crux of a lot of the conversations that go on on buses and in changing rooms up and down the country and WhatsApp groups is dominated by it.”

Deceit and avoidance were regular themes in McConville’s gambling past. During his inter-county days with Aramgh, he often stayed back after training to practice his free-taking.

Others presumed he was just dedicated to perfecting his kicking technique, but there was another darker reason behind his post-training routine.

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“People used to think I was very diligent but my life was in a mess at that stage, and I hated getting back into the car because I knew I’d be going back to my normal life and the phone calls from people that I owed money to.” 

Recovery is essentially an ongoing journey for McConville. 16 years on from when he first started to conquer this problem, he continues to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

He dispels the misconception that those gatherings are about “telling war stories” or the amount of money lost through gambling. Instead, he says it’s a space where people can discuss their emotions freely.

“It’s a powerful place to be when you see men from between the ages of 18 and 80 talking about their emotions. It’s not something you hear in the changing room to be honest so it’s a completely different space.

“I’m more aware of myself than I ever have.”

Less than 1 percent of people who could benefit from treatment from problem gambling ever seek it. Extern Problem Gambling provides support for anyone affected by problem gambling and offers remote services by fully qualified and accredited addiction counsellors.

If you or someone you know needs help with dealing with gambling, you can get help and support now by sending a text to Extern Problem Gambling on 089 241 5401 (ROI) or 07537142265 (NI). For more details, please visit: https://www.problemgambling.ie/

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