Gambling addiction led to new kind of training for GAA star Oisín McConville

Oisín McConville was a star on the pitch, but a gambling addict off it – he even considered suicide, but has since trained as a counsellor and shares his story to inspire others to seek help.

With a football in his hand, he had the world at his feet, winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship with Armagh 18 years ago.

But his addiction was spiralling out of control.

“My first bet was 50p each way,” Oisín told UTV.

“Now, for a lot of people, they wouldn’t think that’s going to develop into a problem. Then it went to a fiver, to a tenner, to 50, to 100, to 500, to 1,000, to 5,000, to 10,000.

“To the second last bet I had on a horse at £20,000.”

Unknown to the outside world, it was when Oisín was enjoying great success on the pitch for both club and county that his addiction was at its height.

“I wanted you to think that everything in my life was great,” he said.

“It was huge pressure and it was causing me serious angst all the time. I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating properly, and I was going out onto the pitch and trying to perform.”

In action for Armagh back in the day. Credit: INPHO

Breaking point came when Oisín took out a loan for £20,000, walked into a betting shop and picked a horse off the screen.

He lost it all.

He went to his car, scraped together seven or eight pounds, went back in and bet that too.

He lost again.

“Got back into the car, I had suicidal thoughts,” Oisín said.

“I started to flick down through my phone to do the same thing as I always did – see who else I could hit for money, where else could I get the money or the ammunition to go and gamble again.

“And then I thought what if I was to ask for help?”

At that point, Oisín broke down in tears.

Oisín hopes telling his story can inspire others to seek help. Credit: UTV

“I hadn’t cried in 16 years. Started to show my emotions that had been, you know, locked inside me for so long,” he recalled.

“And when those emotions started to come out, I started to get better.”

Oisín insists that you cannot recover on your own – you need help. For him, that meant residential treatment, but he also urges anyone going through something similar to speak to someone.

A family member or friend, a GP or counsellor, someone from a charity there to listen like the Samaritans. Anyone, as long as you do speak to someone.

His mantra is that you’re never fully recovered, but you’re always recovering, and as a trained addiction counsellor, he is now helping others overcome their own demons.

Help & Support