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Mayo’s Pádraig O'Hora opens up on mental health journey ‘from full of fear… to fighting fit’

With the support of a friend, Pádraig O'Hora, who works in the mental health sector, reached out for help himself. Photo: Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Frank RocheIndependent.ie

Pádraig O'Hora works in the mental health sector and so is accustomed to finding the right words for people in need of support. But what happens when you’re the person who craves it?

The Mayo defender was that soldier a couple of years back. It led to counselling and, even though he has come out the far side feeling far healthier, he still checks in with his counsellor at least once a month.

“You think I should probably know what to do – which I do, I give the advice to people and support people. But when it is you, it is quite difficult,” O’Hora acknowledged.

“The message that is always out there to speak to somebody – I don’t think people realise how difficult that step is.

“For me, I had kind of gathered that things weren’t right after a number of weeks leading into months. I was meeting with a mate; we run a community group together. We do our meetings on the go … we were walking in the woods in Ballina and, like that, he just ‘decked on’ that something was slightly amiss and pressed me on it a little bit. I opened up to him and he was like, ‘You have to speak to somebody here’ ...

“I promised I would and then, like most do, didn’t follow through on the promise. But he knew the craic, so he kept on top of me. He asked me a couple of times after that, and then I did go and see my GP.

“Fortunately enough, I have a really good relationship with my GP, which made it a little bit easier. But once I sat down and said, ‘I don’t think I am right, I am not 100pc sure what is wrong, but I know I am not right’ and we had a conversation, the weight was gone. You went from full of fear to ... not in any way fixed or sorted, or whatever you want to call it, but definitely more empowered.”

​O’Hora won’t be involved this Saturday in Castlebar when the Kevin McStay era enjoys take-off with a tasty Division 1 duel against arch-rivals Galway.

It’s precisely the type of challenge he’d relish – but an injury in training that required “a small bit of surgery on the ankle” before Christmas has put paid to that. The tigerish Ballina defender intends to get back “as soon as I can” this spring, adding: “I’m a day-by-day guy.”

You might say the same applies to managing his mental health. Speaking at yesterday’s launch of the 2023 Allianz leagues, he said: “I definitely feel back on track but would feel that it’s a constant personal development thing I need to be aware of, conscious of and that I need to check in with.

“I haven’t stopped counselling. I don’t see why you would. I was always under the impression that you go to see a counsellor to get support when you need it; but the science says, ‘Why wouldn’t you be preventative prior to issues arising?’

“I found it so beneficial when I needed it. I kind of kept that going. I feel like I’m in a good place, but I do think it’s certainly a constant journey. It’s attached to your life as much as your general health is.”

Curiously, even though football is “fairly irrelevant” to those conversations with his counsellor, it actually “helps a lot with my mental health. Upon reflection, I’m a lot happier when I’m playing football than I am when I’m not.”

O’Hora is sporting a new 2023 look, shorn of his trademark ponytail after having it cut for charity, raising over €7,000 for the LauraLynn children’s hospice. Fitness permitting, he is looking forward to staking his claim under Mayo’s new management team – led by a fellow Ballina man, albeit long displaced.

“I don’t think I properly met him (McStay) at all prior to us getting started this year. His nephew Conor McStay, who’s on the Mayo panel at the moment, obviously plays in the Stephenites with me, so I’d know him fairly well,” he said.

“Then through the basketball scene … the two families play a lot of basketball. And, obviously, if you go up the steps in Ballina Stephenites, you have to walk past the All-Stars, so you see him there too!”

O’Hora, an All-Star nominee in 2021, is confident that Mayo can cope with the recent loss of two All-Star defenders after Oisín Mullin’s departure to Aussie rules and Lee Keegan’s retirement.

“I don’t even know if I see them as hits,” he reflected. “Of course, Lee leaving and Oisín heading off does change things, and it opens up space.

“But we’ve performed really, really well, and we’ve won huge games without important players. We’ve gone through games over the last two years where we had a lot of injuries, and people would have definitely written us off because we were missing key forwards, or Oisín definitely didn’t play in that [2021] semi-final against Dublin.

“It’s very rare that any team gets to have a fully-fit panel coming into any championship game. I just think we’re lucky in Mayo because we’ve always had depth. We’re not waiting for a strong minor or U-20 team to come through. They’re literally coming through every year.”

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