Top tough rugby players tackle their feelings

By Brendan Grehan

THE IRISH RUGBY Union Players’ Association has launched a new mental wellbeing campaign “Tackle Your Feelings” in partnership with Zurich.

As part of the campaign provincial and international rugby stars have come forward to tell their own personal stories of the issues they have faced off the pitch.

Jack McGrath and Hannah Tyrell 

Leinster and Ireland loose-head Jack McGrath speaks emotively about how he coped with the death of his brother by suicide in 2010, and Irish women’s player, Hannah Tyrrell, from Clondalkin, talks about how she overcame her struggles with self-harm and bulimia.

Jack lost his brother to suicide in 2010 but struggled to address his feelings. Instead, he said he shunned talking about how it affected him and tried to be the strong one for his family.

He said: “It was something I was really reluctant to talk out initially. When it happened it was a real shock to everyone in the family, so for me I just needed to just be strong for my family and didn’t think about it. I just tried to forget about it by playing rugby and I just thought ‘I have to be tough’.” Jack said that the way he dealt with it was to put his head under the sand.

He added: “That probably worked for me for five-and-a-half years, but towards last year it started creeping up, this anxious feeling happening inside me, it was just like this ball of stress in my stomach the whole time. I just knew it wasn’t the way somebody should be feeling, I needed to open up about it.”

Jack said the turning point for him was when his anxiety started creeping into all areas of his life.

He said : “It started affecting where it hadn’t before, it started to affect my rugby, my relationships and my life, and that’s when I needed to do something about it.It wasn’t all the time, I would be okay for a minute and then the next I’d have this knot in my stomach and this feeling of dread and you don’t know what it’s from or where it comes from.

“The day I decided I had to change was the day I will always look back on, and I’ve never felt that feeling in my mind or in myself since. Once I start to feel anything like that or anything like that getting on top of me or getting in the way, I just talk to people. It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist or anyone like that, it can be someone you trust, someone in your family, or a friend.”

The concept for Tackle Your Feelings arose from seeing how athletes, including professional rugby players, were more than willing to address emotional challenges that were not necessarily linked with their sport once they realised the performance benefits that followed.

IRUPA’s members decided to leverage the unique platform of professional rugby to get the message out there, so Tackle Your Feelings was born. Ambassadors from all four provinces opted not only to speak about this important topic but to lead by example and share their own stories of overcoming tough times.


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