Cathal McCarron reveals lengths to which Mickey Harte went in bid to help with his gambling addiction
Cathal McCarron is one of the best man-markers in Gaelic football.
The Dromore and Tyrone corner-back is one of the game's most dogged and committed defenders. Mickey Harte knows this more than most, but it was more than McCarron's talent that brought the Tyrone boss to Galway in January 2010.
McCarron, a member of the 2008 All-Ireland winning Tyrone panel, had been in Cuan Mhuire, receiving treatment for his gambling addiction, when Harte paid an unexpected visit.
As outlined in his startling new autobiography, Out of Control, McCarron checked into the addiction centre after meeting with Oisín McConville, who had suffered his own battles with gambling.
McCarron was in the centre about two months when, shortly after Christmas, his name was called out over the intercom, calling him to reception.
"When I got there, Mickey Harte was standing in front of me," writes McCarron. "We went into the TV room to chat. Mickey took something from his pocket and handed it to me. ‘I think this belongs to you,’ he said.
"I opened this little red velvet box. It was my All-Ireland medal from 2008, the glorious Celtic Cross, gleaming and sparkling against the sunlight dipping in through the Perspex windows."
Gambling had taken such a hold that McCarron had not bothered attending the banquet following Tyrone's 2008 All-Ireland final win over Kerry.
Harte had travelled all the way to Galway, and circumnavigated Cuan Mhuire's policy on no midweek visitors, to hand McCarron his medal and give him a message.
He wasn't giving up on him.
"I asked him if the door with Tyrone was still open for me," recalls McCarron. "‘It has never been closed, Cathal,’ was his reply. We spoke about my life, about my recovery, about how Mickey wanted to play a part in that recovery. He knew football was my life. Mickey knew I was a decent player, but he also acknowledged that I needed to help myself first before I could help Tyrone.
"‘If you focus on life, and on living life well, just think of all the possibilities out there,’ Mickey said. ‘Look at the football you were playing, with all the hell that was going on in your life. Imagine, just imagine, what you really could do if you got all of this sorted out.’"
While his three months in Cuan Mhuire helped McCarron recover and make his Championship debut for Tyrone in 2010, it would not be the end of his gambling troubles.
The autobiography reveals the harrowing details of McCarron's move to London, how he blew £68,000 in three days betting on women's volleyball and being paid £3,000 to appear in a gay porn film after losing his last £150 betting on virtual racing.
McCarron subsequently received further treatment for his addiction and has been a key member of Harte's Tyrone team for a number of years. His life story, written with the help of journalist Christy O'Connor, is a powerful read.
Colm Parkinson chats to Kerry GAA legend, and author, Kieran Donaghy in a special edition of The GAA Hour. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes