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'You either get sober, end up in jail or in a brown box. I wasn't far away from any of them'

Former Wexford goalkeeping coach Noel Considine speaks to The42 about his horrific journey to conquering alcoholism.

A MAN IS standing on a bridge in Limerick, peering over the edge.

IMG-20201219-WA0026 Goalkeeping coach Noel Considine. Source: Noel Considine

He’s jobless, homeless and down to his last €3. It’s Christmas Eve, 2013, a day he usually spends out shopping with his partner and his son. It’s their little annual custom.

But today, he’s alone and seeing no road ahead.

There’s been too many let-downs. Too many times when he didn’t come home. Too many stories about his antics that his loved ones have had to endure. Too many times when he gave into the compulsion that was too strong and too dark to fight off. A world where the illogical was logical to him.

He’s just come across a family making their way across the bridge, carrying their Christmas shopping. All together and all smiling for what is probably their own little holiday tradition. 

Inches apart on the pavement but inhabiting different worlds as the family passes by. And now he’s standing on the edge of the bridge.

So often he has sought comfort at the bottom of a bottle. Now it awaits at the bottom of this drop off the Sarsfield Bridge in Limerick city.

For the briefest time, he’s ready to go. But something prompts him to step back down, get on his knees and pray for a way out.

Everyone who enters the palace is a threat

Noel Considine was born into goalkeeping. His father played between the sticks for Clarecastle and is one of just three players to hold the number one jersey for the Clare minors over three consecutive seasons. Davy Fitzgerald and Stephen O’Hara are the other two who hold that feat.

From an early age, goalkeeping was an obsession for Considine. Along with his father, nine-time Kilkenny All-Ireland winner Noel Skehan, and recently deceased Liverpool great Ray Clemence were his first heroes of the trade.

Considine graduated to senior hurling for Clarecastle when he was only a teenager, a mark which would have put have put in a strong position to be the next great goalkeeping prospect for the Banner.

He won three senior county championship medals as well as an All-Ireland junior title with Clarecastle.

But his time happened to crisscross with a diminutive goalie called Davy Fitzgerald from Sixmilebridge.

“In 1986, I was in goal for Clarecastle seniors,” Considine recalls to The42 about his first sighting of Fitzgerald.

“I was only 16 and a half, and we won minor and senior that year. The minor was to be the curtain-raiser to the senior final, but it had to be cancelled because I was playing in both. The curtain-raiser then was the U15 final between Wolfe Tonnes and Sixmilebridge.

I was in the dressing-room getting ready for the senior final and I spotted this small fella in goal for Sixmilebridge and I said to somebody, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to have to watch out for.’ And how right I was.”

Considine still hurls a bit at 52, but has also branched into coaching. He was just working with clubs at the start, until about four years ago when he was invited to be the goalkeeping coach with the Wexford senior hurlers. Once again, the stars aligned to put him alongside Fitzgerald.

Wexford’s first-choice netminder Mark Fanning is among the players who have passed through Considine’s tutelage. He also works with the Wexford U20s and continues to work with other goalkeepers at club level, including Galway’s Eanna Murphy through his local side, Tommy Larkins.

IMG-20201219-WA0005 The celebrations after Wexford's Leinster success last year. Source: Noel Considine.

Goalkeeping even gets a dedication on the wall of Considine’s home through a picture of former USA goalkeeper, Hope Solo.

“It’s a massive picture of her,” he explains. She describes how she treats the goal like a palace and that everyone that enters is a threat.

“She’s the best women’s football keeper of all time and I just loved it. It’s so relevant to me and has pride of place for me in my sitting room.”

However long it takes

It’s not through his goalkeeping skills that Considine’s name has come into the public domain recently. 

After decades spent battling an alcohol addiction, he decided it was the right time to speak publicly about his experience. He first spoke about his past on the Player’s Chronicle, and was also featured on RTÉ Radio 1′s Today With Claire Byrne.

He talked about how his unhealthy relationship with alcohol started as a teenager, when he was socialising with older team-mates instead of people his own age. On the night of his debs, Considine was drinking elsewhere.

His lowest points are frightening to hear. By the age of just 21, he had been dried out nine times. When his son Aaron was a baby he suffered from eczema, and Considine was asked to go to the shops to get goat’s milk for the pain. He didn’t return for days.

While drinking during his younger days, the guards were sometimes called to deal with his behaviour. His father had to borrow money to go over to London where Considine was living at the time, and bring him home.

Considine sold his medals, including his All-Ireland one, to pay for drink. When he was at his worst, around the time he was contemplating suicide on that bridge, Considine’s skin was yellow and he was passing blood.

He was a binge drinker in pubs for most of his life, but was having almost uninterrupted drinking days at this point, and consuming over 20 vodkas with a small dash of coke some nights.

“The toughest part to talk about was the way it affected the people that I care about,” says Considine as he reflects on his decision to open up about that dark chapter of his life that lasted over 30 years.

IMG-20201219-WA0025 Considine having fun with his three german shepherds. Source: Noel Considine.

“Those people saw the very worst of me. Everybody thinks it’s that night on the bridge in Limerick. It wasn’t. 

“They didn’t want that in their life, they wanted me in their life. What I exposed them to, they didn’t deserve to see it. I’m talking about my son, my ex-partner, my Mum, my Dad, my brother and my sister. Their families and anyone who would have been involved in my life.

It still knocks me in the stomach to this day when I think about what I put them through.”

Praise from the public was never Considine’s motivation for speaking about this. He simply wanted to acknowledge the people who supported him throughout his struggles.

But he has received some positive feedback in the aftermath of his interviews, while others have contacted to share their own story of addiction with him. 

He’s glad he decided to expose that part of his life to help others, and he appreciates what his journey with alcoholism taught him about himself. But being enslaved by drink is a burden he wish he went without.

No, I’m not at all grateful I’m an alcoholic but I’m very grateful [that] I know who I am and I can do something about it. I suffer from the third-biggest killer disease in the world.

“The World Health Organisation recognise alcoholism as a disease and it’s behind heart disease and cancer as the third-biggest killer in the world.

“If you were to take the amount of heart disease and cancer that drink causes, I would say it’s probably higher than three.

“So, I’m not grateful that I’m an alcoholic, I hate the word. I use it at times to tell myself what I am. I don’t like the word but I’m grateful that I know what I am.”

During those interviews, Considine also recounts the start of his recovery at Bushy Park treatment centre on 7 January, 2014, just a few days after he almost ended it all on the bridge.  

This was his fifth attempt at conquering his alcoholism. The woman he was lodging with at the time gave him some money as he headed for the entrance.

He went through some slips in the first year of that recovery effort before eventually hitting his stride and never looking back.

“That woman and her family in Limerick that I lived with, they saved my life,” Considine explains.

“Bushy Park wasn’t different, I was. There’s a difference between accepting this thing, and admitting it. It was my third time in Bushy Park.

“All the other times, I was in for the wrong reason. I was in to keep people happy or get people off my back, or to keep jobs, or to sort out things at home because maybe a few times I got into trouble with the law. There was always a reason.

This time, I went in because I knew [that] three things happen: you either get sober, end up in jail or in a brown box. I wasn’t far away from any of them. Thankfully, I got sober. But I wanted it. When I went up the steps of Bushy Park, I closed the door and put my back to the door and just said, ‘Whatever length of fucking time this takes, you’re going to get right this time.’

“I stayed an extra week in there because I knew it was my lifeline. I’ve tried to get sober so many times since I was 18.

“There isn’t another recovery in me. If God forbid this was to go wrong this time, I’m just going to give up on it. I know I would. This is to keep me alive. That’s not to be dramatic or exaggerating. The effort I’ve put into this recovery, I don’t think that would be in me again.

“I have to mind it like a baby, and I do.”

Higher Power

Every morning starts the same way for Considine. He offers up a few prayers, reads a passage from the book he received through his AA programme, and makes his bed.

IMG-20201219-WA0020 Considine with his granddaughter Ava. Source: Noel Considine.

Those conversations with God are no longer a cry for help. They’re more for upkeep now.

He’s in good health despite the years of abuse he inflicted on his body, and has enough energy for his three gorgeous German Shepherds; Bod, Cara and Shadow. He has his own house too, and is a successful car salesmen working in Galway.

The goal is to get through the day without a drink, rather than vow to never touch a drop again.

It’s one day at a time,” Considine reasons. “But I’m pretty sure if I keep doing the right things, the right things will happen.”

His ongoing recovery is not about avoiding the pub either. Sobriety is to be enjoyed rather than endured. He can happily stand at a bar or go to watch his favourite country music bands without even feeling the flicker of temptation.

“There’s nothing with drink,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with people who drink, there’s nothing wrong with pubs.

The problem is, I’m an alcoholic that can’t drink. I’m the problem. And if I was to confine myself to, ‘I can’t go into a pub, can’t be around people who drink,’ I might as well be dead. The world doesn’t have to revolve around me, I have to fit into the world.

“A person that’s off drink for other people, places or things that doesn’t want to be off it for themselves. I have been that soldier more than once and that person can be harder to live with than the practicing alcoholic.”

Trusting the path he’s on has brought further rewards to go with his health and happiness. Some of the medals he sold to finance his drinking bill have been recovered.

He has his mother to thank for that.

One of the other medals is in the safe possession of his father who has passed away, but Considine suspects that his All-Ireland medal is gone forever.

He’s not sure if the medals made their way back to him after his recent interviews, and he doesn’t need to know either.

“I don’t know where they came out of but I have them. I haven’t put them back into their case yet. I had a little glass case with my medals in it and the gaps are in it. I must put them in over the Christmas.

“My All-Ireland medal didn’t come back, I’ll never get that [back] and I know that. Another one of my championship medals will never be got [either]. My father never won a county final with Clarecastle and when he was coming down to my house, he’d be looking at the championship medals.

My father’s coffin was closed and I dropped one into his hand and I know it’s the safest medal in the world because it would never fall out of his hand. Nothing ever fell out of it.

“But yeah, the mother got them back and it’s great.”

Over the bridge

It’s exactly seven years since that night in Limerick. Considine has passed by that spot on the bridge several times since then, but recently, he decided to throw up a post on Facebook. He included the lyrics of a Mick Flavin song to articulate his feelings about it and sent a text to an important person who played an integral role in his recovery before hitting the publish button.

“Pretty different place,” he writes, “very different person but the knot still hit my stomach hard passing it.”

It’s a different world he inhabits now.

Relationships have been repaired and Considine admits he’s blessed to have such compassionate people in his life. Changes in his work life forced him to withdraw from his coaching role with the Wexford seniors having played a big part in their Leinster success last year.

The long commute to Wexford, coupled with the commitment required to work with an inter-county team, left him with no other choice. He leaves with nothing but good memories of the Wexford people and the coaching environment created by Davy Fitzgerald. 

“I’ve nothing but good to say about them. If Davy finds it difficult to get a goalkeeping coach and wants someone part-time, I’m still available,” he laughs.

He’s eager to work with an inter-county team again in the future for nothing else apart from his passion for goalkeeping. He doesn’t accept a single cent for his contribution. Imparting advice to the bright young talents in goalkeeping is enough for him.

After years of chaos, Considine lives a quiet and simple life now. The people he hurt most during his drinking years all get several mentions throughout our chat, including his grand-daughter Ava.

His greatest gift to her is that she has been able to see Noel Considine 2.0 since the day she was born.

“She has been a huge part of my life,” Considine says.

“I swore the morning I held her in my hand that she’d never see what Aaron saw. Or what Aaron missed seeing. I wouldn’t have been one that went home and abused [former partner] Cathy and Aaron, but there were lots of times that I didn’t go home, which was nearly worse.

“Thankfully she hasn’t. We’ve a fantastic relationship and she’s a treasure.”

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

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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