Tiarnán Millar is the Public Relations Officer for Wolfe Tones GAC and Antrim Ladies GFA. On World Mental Health Day he shares why getting back involved with a club was transformative for him.
Football was always a massive part of my life. I played with my local club, Thomas Davis, in Armagh from I was 7 until 17, lining out at senior for the first time when I was 15. My Da, who’s a Down man, had me all over Ireland, and some of my earliest memories are standing on the then gravel terraces at what is now Páirc Esler in Newry.
But as an Armagh man myself I was lucky enough o watch my county win their first All Ireland from Hill 16 in 2002.
My kit bag went everywhere with me, and by the time I quit playing at 17 I was probably playing or training five nights a week. An injury in a game in the Gaeltacht in 2004 put me out for a year and by the time it was healed I was away to university and I never went back.
Throughout my twenties I went to the occasional county game, and watched a lot of matches on TV, but I never bothered to dig out the boots and head over to the nearest club. By the time I joined Wolfe Tones, I was 33 with a decade and a half of weight gain and pretty poor fitness. I was kidding myself that I would ever play competitively again, but I really enjoyed the training and the sense of belonging at being back at a club.
I’ve been able to contribute in other ways, I’m the club PRO and the County PRO for Ladies football. I helped coach the club’s ladies’ team for a year and my kids are now both playing with the club.
When people tell you it’s never too late, that’s not true. Time takes it’s toll. But if I was sitting now in my twenties, maybe not having played for a couple of years and I had it all to do again I’d be straight down at the nearest club.
Your soloing and your hand passing will be back to the way they were after a session or two. In a month of decent training you’ll be back to similar levels of fitness. The mental health benefits of being back involved are incredible. Being part of a community, the chance to pass that on to my kids and the people you’ll meet and the bonds you’ll form.
Even getting out in the fresh air, travelling all over Antrim, maybe to pitches in towns and villages that you’ve never been to before. The County gig has given me the chance to do that over Ireland as well. Meeting people from all across the country, hearing stories you’ve never heard before. In July I was lucky enough to go to the All Ireland Final, and see that feeling of walking out into the stands in Croke Park knowing you’re part of an organisation that can muster that kind of spectacle, not for money, but just for the love of the game, the hairs on your neck just stand up for the full 70 minutes.
Don’t be like me, don’t be sitting at 36 looking back over what could have been. I can’t change the past, but if you’re still in your twenties and you miss those days, dig out the boots, you know where they are, send the club a private message on Facebook or Twitter and someone – probably me – will get back to you about training times etc.