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25th Nov 2022

‘I was so stressed the week before the All-Ireland and I ended up having a panic-attack’ – O’Shea and O’Sullivan open up

Niall McIntyre

For Graham O’Sullivan, it all came to a head on the week of the All-Ireland final.

He was in the Gaeltacht that week, up in Galway, and the road to Kerry wasn’t getting any shorter. Everything seemed to be piling up and, for the first time in his life, on the biggest week of his life, he had a panic attack.

He met up with Sean O’Shea recently as part of their Movember rucking challenge and, over the course of their walk up the old Kenmare road, O’Sullivan opened up to his team-mate about the struggles he faced that week.

“The week before the All-Ireland, I lost my mind a small bit,” said the Dromid Pearses club-man.

“I was travelling up and down from Galway and everything. I was so stressed out and I ended up having a panic-attack.

“I didn’t know what to do, and I was with my girlfriend Casey and she was like ‘sure we’ll ring the team doctor,’ so I rang Mike and in fairness to him, he stayed on the phone with me for about an hour!

“This was at about 11.00 at night, and his wife is a psychologist as well, and she was talking to me, trying to calm me down.

“I’d say it was just an accumulation of everything that had gone on in the build-up. And I’d bottled it up and then it just hit me like a wall.”

The Movember video series supports men to speak openly to their friends, as you’ll see in the video below, that’s exactly what O’Shea and O’Sullivan do.

Body image was one of the many topics they discussed and, having struggled with the subject in the past, the Kerry corner back has come to realise that ‘it doesn’t affect performance as much as you might think it does.’

“That’s probably been my achilles heel for my first few years in camp,” he tells O’Shea.

“I was probably more of a contender for a dad-bod than the six pack! I used to beat myself with that. But that’s probably stemming from Instagrams and an unrealistic image of what you’re meant to look like.

“Looking like that I mean, it doesn’t really affect performance as much as you might think it does.

“Then you can put too much focus on it and start doing crazy things. In terms of eating or over-doing work-outs and burning yourself out.”

O’Shea knows what he means and says that, as a county player, for something as simple as eating a slice of cake in a coffee shop, you’d almost be looking over your shoulder.

“I’d nearly be more conscious of do you know, what are other people thinking when they see me eating a cake or something.

“And you would get it. If you’re out for a coffee and you’re treating yourself, someone might walk past you and they’d be like ‘jesus, should you be eating that now?’ They could be messing but…”

Meanwhile, and all county and club players will know the struggle, O’Shea talked about the challenge of having to stay in when friends are out enjoying themselves. He uses an example from first year in college.

“I actually found it tough in first year, we were still involved with the club at the time, in a Munster campaign.

“So I’d be in on a Tuesday or a Thursday night, in the house on my own and I’d be thinking ‘is this really what it’s all about? Is this the whole college life that I’ve been hearing about for the last five or six years. So you have to stay in at times.

“It hasn’t changed, but we probably get our enjoyment from other ways rather than being out on the tear.”