George O’Connor is a retired Wexford hurler. After seventeen years playing senior hurling he won his first All-Ireland Hurling medal in 1996 at 37 years old. It was his last game for Wexford and his second last game of hurling ever. He played one more game for his club and left it at that. He had given his all.

After he retired he devoted his time and energy into building coaching structures in Wexford and beyond. George ran into tough times and experienced severe depression but came out the other side a stronger and wiser man. Today he is happy and healthy and likes to help people who are suffering and struggling with their inner demons.

Tough Times

It is ironic that I sit here on a beautiful first of May evening at the beginning of summer. All I can think of is getting out to the land and experiencing its beauty. Nature has its great properties of healings and searching the body and soul. It is calling me. I sit with my unconscious hat on and feel the flow. I am afforded this opportunity by Paul to give what I feel is an honest and truthful account of my experiences to date.

Today I was with a great friend of mine, a man of depth and resilience. A man that has lived to date, four lives in one, and continues to surprise me with his knowledge. We spoke for what I thought was an hour. In fact, it was closer to three. He spoke of his deep understanding for young people. “Ah sure,” he said, “we protect them, feed them, care for them and most important of all, give them the great gift of time.” Music to my ears. So simple, yet it sounds idyllic. “So George,” he continued, “we give the children time, not presents, not money, nothing extravagant, just time” he said.

Life feels great for me now, however there were times when this wasn’t the case. There have been times when I have suffered. Times when I have felt little hope for the future: anxious, stressed, depressed, devoid of life… an empty vessel, only hanging on. I have reached some highs in my life, but have also reached many lows. I have needed help and I have sought help. In a dark period of my life I have had a number of false dawns where I thought I was better and fully recharged, only to run flat again. I have been forced to learn about myself and the inner workings of my mind, my body, my spirit and my soul. I have learned to love myself. It has been a journey of self-discovery.

I am writing this short piece for young people who may experience tough times. Times in their life when the mood is very low and they feel alone and down. Times when there is little or no light. The batteries feel like they are dying. I know how it feels. Life can be tough. It can be busy and unrelenting leaving no time to recharge the batteries and reinvigorate the spirit. The never ending demands on a person- go, go, go! The batteries get worn down, a wave hits us and we become susceptible to viruses of the mind. The spirit seems broken and the soul is darkened. Sadness comes over us. A way out of it is unclear. Help is needed and we must ask for it. We must learn how to cope, learn how to survive and then, go and learn how to thrive.

How do we understand stress, anxiety, and depression? Can one fully understand themselves first under the headings of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual? This must be in our toolkit if we are to succeed in bringing the colours back into our lives. No doubt some of the tools in this book can help. For me it always helps to reconnect with nature. Look, a blackberry! There, a wild strawberry! See the trees connect to one another. Hear a thrush bird sing. See the swallows arrive and wonder how they know when to leave? Engage and spend time in Mother Nature. Observe myself in it and through it gain the strength and composure to thrive in the hustle and bustle of this modern world. For me, we have to ‘listen to ourselves’ and ‘learn ourselves’, learn how to spend our time in ways that will open our mind and soul and strengthen our spirit. Time well spent is a healer. Time is precious. Learn to spend it wisely.

We are all wired differently. Some of us are gentler souls than others. Some of us go through hardships in our lives that affect us deeply and if not healed properly these wounds are always there, ready to reopen. We all have our demons. We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t like to acknowledge but we see lurking inside. These can cause some of us to do irrational and selfish things not out of love for ourselves, but out of fear for ourselves. When times are bad you must ask for help. There are people that can help you understand this life and the struggles it can bring. You must also learn what works for you and what is the best way to spend time that can nourish your mind, body, spirit and soul. I wish you well on the great journey of life.

God bless,

George

This essay is an extract from Be the Best You Can Be in Sport- A Book for Irish Youth

Copyright Paul Kilgannon 2021
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