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An Irish Olympian's battle with Parkinson's, mental health advice, and the week's best sportswriting
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joe-marler Dan Sheridan / INPHO England's Joe Marler [file photo]. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

*Denotes article is behind a paywall 

1. In January last year, 10 years to the day since he felt his first symptom of Parkinson’s, he underwent a five-hour brain surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis.

“You’re wide awake for the whole thing,” he says, “while they’re drilling holes in your head.”

He pulls down his shirt to display a device, about the size of a matchbox, that bulges beneath the skin in his chest. During the operation, wires were implanted into his brain and from a hand-held impulse generator, O’Mara controls an electrical signal that is sent to his brain.

“Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, but my brain doesn’t produce enough,” he says. “The electricity allows what dopamine I have to work better, and it also prevents bad signalling.”

There are two key symptoms of Parkinson’s: those from the disease itself and those from the medication, which patients come to rely on more and more as things deteriorate. Before the surgery O’Mara was knocking back 17 pills a day and was plagued by the involuntary movements of dyskinesia.

* Speaking to Cathal Dennehy in the Irish Independent, Irish Olympian Frank O’Mara talks about his athletics career and living with Parkinson’s disease.

2. “I snapped. We got home and I just spiralled and lost control. I turned over the kitchen, punched in one of the doors. Then I got in the truck and drove off. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. But it was a massive turning point because it was the most ashamed I’ve ever been. I didn’t recognise who I was any more. After 30 minutes I came back because I was running out on everything good in my life.”

Marler tugs at his beard while he relives the upsetting memory. “Daisy was crying and I was worried she was scared,” Marler recalls, “but we’ve spoken about it often since then. She says: ‘I was never scared of you. I was just upset and wondering who you were and what you were doing.’ 

England prop Joe Marler opens up about his struggles with mental health in conversation with Donald McRae of The Guardian.

3. As a patient in Manchester’s Priory for 12 weeks he was kept under regular observation and permitted daily visits from family and friends. Among those to call in on Lenihan was Roy Keane, his one-time Republic of Ireland assistant manager and fellow son of Cork.

“Roy was really good to me after all that happened,” Lenihan says. “When I was in the hospital in Manchester he lived nearby and he would call in and go for a walk with his dogs.

“He invited me over to his house for Sunday dinner as well. Stuff like that. He didn’t need to do it but he did. For me, Roy Keane was God for as long as I can remember. So for him to do that for me was huge.”

Those three months in Manchester were the point Lenihan began to address his mental health problems. Counselling and medication helped, as did electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a procedure commonly used in patients with severe depression that have not responded to other treatments.

brian-lenihan Donall Farmer / INPHO Brian Lenihan. Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

* To coincide with World Mental Health Day, Brian Lenihan talks to The Athletic’s Philip Buckingham about how a visit from Roy Keane helped while he was receiving treatment for depression.

4. “I was a young lad, I’d plenty of money in my pocket and a different chat-up line that you’d use every week. I’d make sure I’d always be back in my brother’s house for a quarter to seven on Monday morning and he’d take me back to the airport,” Gordon recalls.

“He’d always ask ‘Where did you stay last night?’ and I’d say ‘I never got her second name’. It could be Crumlin, it could be Tallaght, it could be anywhere. When I was chatting to someone in Copper Face Jacks, I could be anyone from a veterinary surgeon to a barman.

“I used to bamboozle the women. I’d have good rings on me and bracelets. I wasn’t going to a barber, I was going to Vidal Sassoon to have me hair cut. I had the best of everything and we made a fortune from the videotapes.”

* Ambrose Gordon talks to the Irish Independent’s Michael Verney about being a mover and shaker in his youth and selling pirate copies of the Sunday Game in London in the 1980s.

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