Conor McDermott believes his best football days lie ahead after gambling nightmare
CONOR McDERMOTT believes his best footballing days are ahead of him after battling back from a gambling addiction which threatened to ruin his life.
The 24 year-old Cliftonville defender, who has struggled with depression and mental health issues, has recently made his comeback on the pitch following eight soul-searching months in rehab.
Making his first appearance as a substitute in the Reds' 4-2 win away to Warrenpoint last month, the talented right-back was handed his first start against Linfield at Windsor Park and has also featured off the bench in the league leaders' last two fixtures against Coleraine and Larne last night.
McDermott has detailed the financial and personal cost of his addiction and how an intervention from his family allowed him to overcome his problems at a residential programme in Mayo and later in Italy.
Upon his return, the ex-Derry City right-back was braced to face up to all the hurt he had caused due to his ‘selfish’ actions when he was controlled by addiction and so he was grateful to Reds boss Paddy McLaughlin for welcoming him back into the fold at Solitude.
“I knew I had to face a lot of rumours and stories,” he explained. “A lot of these stories were greatly exaggerated too, they always are in Derry but that’s something I had to deal with. I had to make sure I was mentally strong the first time I went back into the Cliftonville changing room as well.”
He made his first public appearance at Derry City’s home match against Sligo Rovers on November 12th, just days after coming back from Italy and while returning to a dressing room environment at Cliftonville wasn’t easy, the reception from his teammates and the fans at the Brandywell, made all his sacrifices worthwhile.
“I went to the Derry match to get myself back out there and show people I’m not hiding from anybody or my problems. I have to live my life again. Everyone makes mistakes but I don’t want to be forever paying for my mistakes. That person wasn’t me, it was someone who was controlled by addiction.
“Going back to the changing room was a nice moment because they all showed me love and I could feel it. They all gave me a hug and welcomed me back. It was a nice moment to be accepted back.
“I went to the Derry match and everyone was coming up and asking me how I was and telling me I was looking well and it was good to see me smiling. It felt unreal because you can feel people actually care about me. Before I didn’t feel that, I didn’t feel anything.
“The next day Paddy put me on the bench (against Warrenpoint) and I couldn’t believe it as I was just off the plane a week and had three sessions under my belt. It might have been the adrenaline of being back playing but I felt like I was 18 again at Derry. That wee boy feeling, buzzing about being part of the first team.
“I came on that Saturday and it was just like when I made my debut for Derry, that feeling of nervousness coming on against Shamrock Rovers. It was a class feeling. I came off and had to pinch myself. I was back in reality, back living my life again and I had changed my life around.”
He’s gone from chasing losses to chasing his dreams and he’s determined to help others who have found themselves in similar situations.
“A problem shared is a problem halved and that’s what I learned. Don’t let it get to where I went to would be my advice. You shouldn’t have to go away to somewhere like I did. That’s the hardest thing - to go away and cut contact with everybody. At the start I didn’t know I would do it but I did. I wouldn’t want anyone feeling like they couldn’t do it. Something inside me said ‘you need this’.
“I know it’s hard to tell people you’re struggling or if you’ve done something bad. I’ve done a lot of bad things but you’re better off speaking the truth. If you don’t it will come back and bite you and it always ends up worse. As hard as it is to talk about it, it’ll always be worse if you cover it up. I had to realise that.
“Every time I did something wrong and thought I’d get away with it, it always came back worse. That’s when the problem started getting worse. If you can nip something in the bud early or see yourself slipping into a bad problem, not only addiction but if you’re having mental health issues or suffer from anxiety or depression, just lift up the phone or talk to somebody. There’s always somebody to talk to.”
With the help and encouragement of his manager, McDermott is confident he can take his game onto the next level now his mind is in the right place.
“I know I’m going to be a better player,” he said. “When I get properly back at myself I will be better than I ever was. That’s not cockiness, it’s confidence in myself. The problem was never ability. The problem was always my head and my mentality and not living my life properly.”
Is he afraid of a potential relapse or does he have his addiction fully under control now?
“I’m not afraid but I have to be aware that my problem is going to follow me my whole life. I have to be aware of it and know where I can be and who I can be around or what restrictions I put on myself. I know I have a problem and I’ve accepted that.
“You just have to live your life with your problem your whole life and that’s just the way it is. But that experience I had in Italy and in Knock builds you to become mentally strong for the hard moments.”