Renowned goalkeeping coach and member of the Wexford GAA backroom team, Noel Considine talks candidly about his battle with alcoholism, recovery and how we must tackle the drinking culture within the GAA.

If you ask anyone who has been involved in my life from day one to today, they’ll say, “Lovely fella, only for the drink”.

In 2014, I was standing on a bridge in Limerick on Christmas Eve waiting to fuck myself over it. I’d three quid left to my name. My home was gone. My job was gone. I’d no place to go on Christmas Day except to go drinking. For 20 seconds, I was ready to go in.

With drink, you either end up getting sober, in jail or in a brown box. I was one step away from the latter. But, some bit of help came from somewhere. A greater power than myself got me out of it.

How I got to that moment is a longer story. A cautionary tale to those that might be on that road.

Noel Considine, goalkeeping coach with the Wexford Senior Hurlers on duty in Wexford Park.

Noel Considine, goalkeeping coach with the Wexford Senior Hurlers on duty in Chadwicks Wexford Park.

I grew up in a community in Clare where hurling was everything and once, I was playing hurling, I was happy. It didn’t matter to me if it was playing for Clare or whoever, I loved putting on that number one jersey. Good goalkeepers are born not made and I was a damn good goalkeeper. The only time I’ve ever felt 100% comfortable in my own skin was when I was standing inside in goals. That’s still true to this day.

My father was a serious goalkeeper for Clarecastle and Clare. I grew up watching him. He was so unorthodox. He used to hold the hurley with the bas pointing towards the ground. He played minor for three years in a row. I think Davy Fitzgerald is the only other goalkeeper to hold that record.

Our house was steeped in hurling. I’d spend hours down at my Grandmothers hitting the ball off the wall. I learned that I’d “a quick eye” and that goalkeeping was for me.

In 1993, we won a Junior All-Ireland in Croke Park against a Kilkenny team managed by one of my heroes, Noel Skehan (my other hero was the Liverpool and England goalie, Ray Clemence). It was the curtain raiser to the Leinster Final so there were 40-50,000 people there. It was a special day.

I loved my club, Clarecastle and playing that role week in week out.

You’re the last man standing. You’re the first one to be blamed and the last one to get credit. But when you love the position, you put up with all of that.

Noel Considine's goalkeeping hero, Noel Skehan in action for Kilkenny in 1984 ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Noel Considine’s goalkeeping hero, Noel Skehan in action for Kilkenny in 1984 ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

I’ve never criticised a goalkeeper that I’ve worked with. There’s plenty of people who’ll do that for us.

I was coaching the Wexford Under 20s last year when the goalkeeper, James Lawlor, got hit for eight goals in the All-Ireland semi-final, none of them were his fault. After that match I said to him, “Any one of those 6,000 people there could have let in those goals. But, the one or two saves you made, you were the only one who could have done that”.

Around February last year, I met with James and two other young goalies I was working with; Eanna Murphy from Tommy Larkins in Galway and Eibher Quilligan from Feakle in Clare. Separately, I told them they had what it took to play senior inter-county. We talked about what steps they needed to take to get there.

The last match weekend before lockdown, one year later, James was in goal for Wexford against Carlow, Eanna started for Galway against Cork and Eibher lined out for Clare against Dublin. That was a proud day.

Coaching goalkeepers gives me great joy. I get a buzz from looking at the stats from lads like Derek Fahy in Sixmilebridge. I have to say I think Mark Fanning is the best goalie in the country at the moment and I’m forever glad of the opportunity Davy Fitzgerald gave me to work with Mark, James and Eanna Martin.

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Noel with Wexford Senior Hurling manager, and fellow Clare goalkeeper, Davy Fitzgerald.

Noel with Wexford senior hurling manager, and fellow Clare goalkeeper, Davy Fitzgerald. ©Noel Considine

My first game of hurling at adult level was in 1983. I lined out for Tommy Larkins junior team a few days ago so I’m a long time at it.

Back in 1986 we reached the county final in senior and minor. I was playing in both. I was 17 years old and I was going to be the next big goalkeeper in Clare.

Six Mile Bridge under-15s were playing in the curtain raiser. I stood at the dressing rooms watching the game and I spotted this tot of a lad in goals. “That’s the guy I’ve to watch out for”, I said. And how right I was. It was Davy Fitz.

He’s one of the best goalkeepers I’ve ever seen. His work rate, his drive, his ability. He was exceptional. He’ll go down as one of the best managers ever too.

He’s good at everything he does because he is driven. He doesn’t recognise defeat. A bad loser and a great winner. I’d say if you take him on in a game of Snap, he’d keep going until he beat you.

All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final 1997. Clare Goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after the game. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final 1997, Clare Goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald celebrates after the game. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

It was back then, when I was playing senior hurling at a young age, that the drinking started. My teammates were adults, so I was drinking with adults.

I was drinking in Sunday and Monday clubs with men a lot older than me. The women I’d meet at the start were all older than me because I was meeting them in the pub. I didn’t even turn up for my Debs. I went off on the piss.

I didn’t grow up around drinking. My mother detests it. My father was a ‘five pints on a Sunday’ man.

Everything about my life was older than it should have been. Can you imagine a 17-year-old drinking 10 pints and four glasses of whiskey with adults and then going home to your parents? I was in trouble from the start.

I was dried out nine times in Our Lady’s in Ennis before the age of 21. That’s some stamp to have on your CV.

I left the hospital on a Thursday before an Under 21 final with the club, and only the manager knew where I was after coming from.

I got into trouble with the law. I didn’t kill anybody or take part in an armed robbery, but I got into bother more than any man who’s had a respectable upbringing should have. I had people looking out for me. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I’d say what I had to, to keep jobs, keep my place on hurling teams, to get people off my back.

There’s a word, F-E-A-R and that means ‘face everything and recover’. There was a time when that meant, ‘fuck everything and run’.

I was only a pub drinker. That’s an expensive habit. By the time I was living and working in Limerick, my binge drinking had turned into an every evening event. I was living in rented accommodation with my landlady and her family. But for the help and care of those people I’d be dead. I owe them my life.

I was in a spiral.

At the time, I was selling 12 cars a week, so I was on good money. I’d rock into the pub after work with nice clothes, a fancy car outside, loads of money. They loved to see me coming. I wasn’t able to drink pints by that stage. I’d be drinking eight vodkas for every small mixer bottle of coke. I’d go through three bottles of coke. That’s 24 vodkas, every night.

I’d do whatever I could to stay drinking, things I’m not proud of. I robbed. I stole. I sold jackets off my back. I sold watches, rings, medals. I don’t have my All-Ireland hurling medal.

One time, I was playing hurling in London. I woke up under a park bench after going to see Big Tom play in the Galtymore in Cricklewood and needed money to go on the piss again.

Me and a buddy gathered leaves into a box and headed to Madame Tussauds and waited for the tourists to line up. I went around handing out leaves. They looked at me bewildered, of course. “These leaves are in honour of all the great servicemen who fought and died for Britain. Feel free to donate to their families”, I told them. I raised £390 in about an hour. In 1988, that kept me drinking for the week.

Noel out and about with his three German Shepherds, Bod, Cara and Shadow.

Noel out and about with his three German Shepherds, Bod, Cara and Shadow. ©Noel Considine

All roads led to me, standing on that bridge in Limerick in 2014.

It was the first Christmas Eve I hadn’t spent with my son Aaron, and my partner at the time, Cathy. We’d have always gone shopping together but not that year. That ate at me. So, I went drinking for the day around Limerick.

I’d have three drinks in one pub and move on so they wouldn’t know that I was a drunk. But it was well known of course. I was the life and soul of the party but, I wasn’t in a good place. I’d gone yellow. I was passing blood.

It was six o’clock and I’d no presents bought. I’d no money left at all. I was walking across Sarsfield Bridge and a family were coming towards me; two kids and their parents, all holding hands, and carrying their shopping. It was as if someone kicked me in the head and I just burst into tears. I was ready to put an end to it all on that bridge, in that moment.

I accept now that I am an alcoholic. I used to admit it. There’s a huge difference between the two.

My son, Aaron, is my life. People will come and go in your life, and if you’re lucky some will stay around. He is everything to me.

For my only son to wash his hands of me, that was the motivation I needed. I was embarrassing him. He’d hear stories about me. He wouldn’t have seen me coming home wrecking the place or being abusive, but he saw a lot of me not coming home at all. I’d go missing for days and he and his mother, Kathy, wouldn’t know if I was dead or alive.

I tortured everyone, including myself. I’d been in and out of programmes before but, in January 2014 when I went into Bushy Park treatment centre, that was the first time I wasn’t going in to please anyone. I was going in to turn things around. Thank God I did.

Noel Considine with his son Aaron and Granddaughter, Eva

Noel Considine with his son Aaron and Granddaughter, Ava ©Noel Considine

There’s a culture of drinking in the GAA, that I don’t think is handled very well. I got no help from my club. They went off to London in 1987 after winning the senior championship and refused to bring me because, ‘I’d be trouble’. Where was the help there?

Many of the hierarchy in the GAA have never drank in their lives or are social drinkers. They know feck all about it. They’re the do-gooder. “The Toyota driver” I call them. They stand in judgement.

To them, people with a drink problem are eejits who lost the run of themselves. But they’re not eejits, they’re addicts.

People don’t understand that an addiction is something no one wants in their life. They don’t just need a kick up the backside or a good talking to. They need to be handled properly. They need guidance and treatment from those who know. The organisation can have all the alcohol awareness speeches they want but the people delivering them are reading it out of a book. What good is that?

The only person who’ll ever understand what an alcoholic feels like at their lowest is someone who was standing on a bridge, homeless, penniless and jobless on Christmas Eve waiting to jump. How can a pioneer sitting up in headquarters possibly understand that?’.

Noel, pictured with his Granddaughter Eva.

Noel, pictured with his Granddaughter Ava. ©Noel Considine

I’d be very grateful for everything in my life today. I’m a very lucky guy. I have everything I could ever want. I have my family. I have a Granddaughter who I adore. I have the GAA.

It hasn’t been plane sailing by any means and since I’ve quit drinking, I’ve had my troubles. A year ago, I almost destroyed a relationship with one of the people I value most in the world. I was very low. Full of dark thoughts coming home from Wexford in the car to an empty house at 1am. But it wasn’t empty, there at the gate were my three German shepherds; Bod, Cara and Shadow. They’re just delighted to see me. Unconditional love. Those dogs will never know what they did for me.

That was rock bottom without the drink. But that’s the whole point, I got through it all without reaching for the bottle. That shows me that I never needed drink in the first place.

I have to be very vigilant about my sobriety. Nothing can come before it.

I’m grateful to that higher power. Every morning I ask God to ‘keep me away from one drink for one day’. I ask to see the good in people. I ask to be free from myself. I ask for His will, not mine. My will will only take me down the wrong path.

Somebody has given me the gift of sobriety. I need to protect that.

It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given.

 

Noel

August 2020.

If you enjoyed Noel’s piece you might like to read Evanne Ni Chuilinn’s – “You Never Really Know“.

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