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'Zoom meetings weren't for me... There were people a long time sober who relapsed'

Hurling goalkeeping coach Noel Considine talks about the challenges that AA members faced during Covid.

LOOKING BACK AT the worst parts of lockdown now, he believes the Covid pandemic was a test of his will.

IMG-20201219-WA0026 (1) Hurling goalkeeping coach Noel Considine. Source: Noel Considine

The virus affected the world in every thinkable way — socially, economically, physically and mentally. Nothing could hide from it. 

For hurling goalkeeping coach Noel Considine, Covid-19 interfered with two key pillars of his life. Sports events were initially wiped off the calendar when the pandemic took hold, before the eerie fixtures at empty stadiums kickstarted the gradual return to normal service.

The GAA season was forcibly brought to a halt too, which caused disruptions for the Wexford hurlers who Considine was working with at the time. He joined them under Davy Fitzgerald’s stewardship before the long commute from his home in Galway forced him to step aside towards the end of 2020.

Considine is working with the Kerry hurlers now as his coaching career continues to grow. He’s also hoping get his own coaching project off the ground in the future.

The second aspect of his life which took a hit from Covid relates to his ongoing journey with alcoholism. He hates the word alcoholic but accepts that he must live with the title.

The Clarecastle native has spoken openly about his long battle to sobriety in the past, including a candid interview with The42 in 2020.

For the best part of a decade, he has been happily sober. But Covid, he feels, really challenged the rehabilitation work he has done so far.

And while AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] is an essential service that provides life-saving treatment to its members, it too was curtailed by the virus, forcing meetings onto online platforms.

“It was different,” Considine explains to The42 about adjusting to the new dynamic during lockdown.

“I hate the word alcoholic but that’s what we are, and our medicine is AA. It’s like a diabetic has to take insulin. It’s our lifeline. I want to be contentedly sober and not what they call a ‘dry drunk.’ A ‘dry drunk’ is someone who lives the life of a drunk without drinking. The only way I can be contentedly sober is to practice the 12 steps of AA.

“A very big part of that is going to AA meetings, and being able to share with like-minded people. The thinking can sometimes be very crazy and that’s what I need AA for.

“Unfortunately I didn’t have that for a very long time. I know a lot of people relapsed, and there were people a long time sober who relapsed as well.

“So, I found it difficult to be fair. I did a couple of Zoom meetings and they were lovely but just Zoom [meetings] wasn’t for me, it wasn’t personal enough. It’s like having a safety net. It’s like if I don’t go to a meeting for three weeks, I know in the back of my mind that if I need to go tonight, I can sit in a car and go to a meeting. It’s there for me.

“That safety net often gets you through. Whereas when it’s not there, it’s a different story. Nobody expected this to happen so there was nobody trained for it or prepared for it. Nobody knew what to expect. So, we were winging it a bit.”

The fear of relapsing crossed Considine’s mind. He has endured many stumbles along the road to leaving the addict’s life behind, and he watched others fall in recent times.

He could relate to the struggle of their slip. But Considine’s own recovery journey has gifted him with a strong sense of conviction that he won’t relapse again.

“To be fair, I struggled with alcoholism since I was 18 and I struggled with admitting I’m an alcoholic and accepting it. I fully accept now that I’m an alcoholic, end of story. There’s no doubt in my mind about it.

“So the fact that I have such strong acceptance means that I accept I’m an alcoholic and can never safely drink again. That was a blessing for me, whereas if I didn’t have the acceptance I have and only admitted it, I probably would have relapsed.

“But thankfully, I’m just in a very strong place and the biggest thing I have is I’m so grateful for the gift of sobriety. That’s the greatest gift I will ever get. The higher power in my life took away the compulsion to drink.

“I won’t get up any morning without saying my few prayers, reading my 24-hour book and I will not go to sleep at night without giving thanks to that higher power, the God of my understanding. It just takes five minutes and if I’m not grateful enough to ask for his help in the morning, I don’t deserve the gift of sobriety.

“It says in the Big Book somewhere that there will come a stage where your only defence against the first drink will be your higher power. I think Covid was my test and my higher power got me through it. He didn’t get me sober to mess up again, so that was my belief.

“Now I have good people in my life too but really that’s my biggest ally.”

****

After the conclusion of his stint with the Wexford hurlers, Considine knew he wanted to work with an inter-county team again. His native Clare was certainly on his mind at the time, and he offered his coaching services to the Banner.

A vacancy didn’t materialise for him however, but he did take up a role with the Kerry hurlers after he was approached by manager — and former Waterford star — Stephen Molumphy.

Kerry are more than an emerging side in hurling. They reached the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup last year where they lost out to a strong Westmeath outfit, and enjoyed a three-point win over Tipperary in the Munster Hurling Cup last weekend.

There are four goalkeepers under Considine’s watch in the Kingdom – Louis Dee, Cormac Slattery, Conor Bohane and Martin Stackpoole.

“It was a no-brainer because I’m very fond of him [Molumphy] anyway,” says Considine.

stephen-molumphy Source: Cathal Noonan

“It’s a fantastic opportunity and I know he’s going places as manager, and I wanted to be part of his set-up. He’s an army officer and everything is 100% meticulous with him and I knew I was going into a set-up that was worth going into.

“There’s no shortage of hurling ability in Kerry. They’re all able to hurl. They’re actually one of the most comfortable teams I’ve ever seen on the ball. If a few little things can be tweaked and a slightly different mentality to what they’ve had for a few years, change a few small things, and I think the future is bright for Kerry hurling.

“Kerry aren’t far away.

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“I’m just loving it at the minute. I’m really excited about developing four goalkeepers who probably never had the chance to be developed properly like I’m capable of developing them. They all want to learn. They seem to appreciate me being there and it’s just a new challenge.”

Considine has worked with a number of high-profile keepers including Wexford’s Mark Fanning, and Eibhear Quilligan in Clare. Various clubs have been under his watch too, working with keepers Shane Gohery and John Mitchell in Galway’s Tynagh-Abbey/Duniry. Considine’s son Aaron is the current manager of Tipperary side Toomevara, and has drafted in his father’s services there too. 

With all that experience and expertise already banked, Considine wants to branch out and start his own coaching operation. The shape and structure of this new project is not yet finalised in his head and it’s unlikely that it will be up and running this year.

Money isn’t a motivating factor for Considine, who works as a car salesman by day. He simply wants to help goalkeepers in hurling and camogie get better at their craft.

“It’s something I’m going to sit down and put into place very soon,” he begins.

“I’m not sure whether I’d go mobile with it or have a premises. The business plan is not fully complete.

“I have someone who is prepared to sponsor me and back me financially. It’s just for me to get the time, sit down and do it right.

“I just love coaching. I want to coach the coaches of every team how to coach goalkeeping.

“If I make this my full-time job, well then I obviously have to make a living out of it. The least important part of my coaching is the expenses. I’d probably be the kind of eejit who would be broke out of it because I’m more interested in getting a player developed to play county than making money out of it.

“I spend as much time on the phone talking to my goalkeepers as I do on the field. And I care about them, and I care about their life and what’s going on. That’s not a job and I think that’s why I’m the best at it.

“With all my goalkeepers, I know the name of their girlfriend or partner, their parents, where they work or what they work at. I know when they have a row with their girlfriend. We talk about everything, and vice versa.

“I want all of my goalkeepers to love playing in goals, that’s the most important bit. You’re in the most privileged position on the pitch. Look at the people who went before you, all the great goalkeepers. We’re carrying on that tradition, and we’re lucky enough to be the next in line.”

If you want to talk or have any concerns about alcoholism, you can contact Pieta House, Alcoholics Anonymous Ireland or the HSE Addiction Services.

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