Hurling

Life, Death and Hurling

Off The Ball
Off The Ball

08:09 2 Dec 2017


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They say depression comes in waves. When you speak with the family of Niall Donohue, the Galway hurler who took his own life in October 2013, you understand that sorrow has been breaking over his family in an unrelenting torrent.

Just listening to Niall’s father Francie, his brother Shane, cousin Conor Whelan, clubmate Justin Fahy, and friend David Burke, sadness ripples and shivers through the air. The sense of loss, the unanswerable question of why will never leave them.

Four years have passed since the man who seemed to have it all, the best hurler in Kilbeacanty, a Leinster title winner in 2012, and a point-scoring wing-back in an All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, ended his personal struggle in a most final way.

Those closest to Niall speak of the “impulsive” decision on that black day, of trying to carry this loss, while father Francie holds up the digits on his left hand to show few times he has been able to visit the grave.

“I find it hard to go to the graveyard,” says Francie. “When my wife died (of cancer in 1996) I didn’t find it hard, it’s a totally different type of bereavement.

“You have to experience these things before you know what they’re like, otherwise you wouldn’t have a clue.

“No one would like. I’m not disrespecting anyone’s opinions or anything, But you know, you just wouldn’t have a clue.

“It’s unexplainable,” adds brother Shane, before Francie jumps back in.“It’s unexplainable

yeah,” says the father. “I find it hard to go to the graveyard since Niall was buried there. He’s over four years dead now and I’d say you can nearly count on that hand how many times I’ve gone in, to tell you the truth.

“I find it hard to believe he’s in there like. A fella that used to go out in Croke Park in front of 82,000 people.

“Do you get me? You wonder how he was so strong and they can end up so weak.

“Do you know what I mean? It’s hard to explain it like. But it has happened, it’s happening every day.

“That’s life I suppose, and the crosses people have to carry, and just get up and get on with it. 

“I’ve talked to people all over the world, all over Ireland, people from abroad as well. 

“They tell me about their process that their family has met, generations back, and they’ve got up and got on with it.

“Hopefully the next generation will be different.”

David Burke had Niall on his mind when he lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup on September 3. As captain Conor Whelan unfurled a flag containing his late cousin’s image, the Galway captain was paying tribute to the man he had played with since county under-14 level.

“One other person who I can’t let today pass without mentioning, he was soldiering with us for years… a good friend of mine, first cousin of Conor Whelan, he passed away in [2013], Niall Donohue,” David said in his speech.

“We’ll never forget him, we remember him today.”

David made an incredible contribution to this film. He was the man who organised the meeting at Loughrea Hotel and made Niall’s family feel comfortable enough to speak with us.

Before driving west, we had known that David, Conor, Justin and Shane were attending, but it was a huge surprise to us when Francie was present too. As those of you who have and will watch the video, this brave father’s words leave an indelible mark. As did each of the five men who spoke so honestly.

“If people are in this kind of a state and are thinking like this and are very low and depressed, they have to think of the relationship that they leave behind,” says David. 

“The relationships of all them people that they know, that’s gone for them  It’s hard to put this into words but, they have to be mindful of them as well. That sense of a life that you leave behind. You only get one chance at it.” 

Anyone affected by issues raised in this piece can contact Pieta House on 1800-247-247 or the Samaritans on 116-123. You can also get in contact with Samaritans by text on 087 2 60 9090 or email [email protected]

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