TIPP OF THE ICE­BERG

Hav­ing lost his mother to sui­cide, All-Ire­land win­ner SEA­MUS HEN­NESSY has de­voted him­self to men­tal health ad­vo­cacy, and hopes to raise €200,000 for char­ity by run­ning the Antarc­tic Ice Marathon.

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All Ire­land-win­ning Tipp hurler Sea­mus Hen­nessy on men­tal health ad­vo­cacy, and his hopes to raise €200,000 for char­ity by run­ning the Antarc­ticIce Marathon.

Ithink we can safely say that Sea­mus Hen­nessy is a glut­ton for pun­ish­ment. Not only is the Al­lIre­land win­ning Tip­per­ary hurler about to run his first marathon, but he’s also do­ing it at 80 De­grees South, just a few hun­dred miles from the South Pole where it’s even colder at this time of the year than it is in his na­tive Cloughjor­dan.

“I’m told it could go down to as low as mi­nus-25,” shiv­ers Sea­mus who will ar­rive in Puenta Are­nas in Chile on De­cem­ber 10 and then fly down to Union Glacier in Antarc­tica to com­pete with 53 other masochis…, er, run­ners from six con­ti­nents in the thir­teenth Ice Marathon.

“If I’m go­ing to fundraise and take money off peo­ple – we’re cur­rently at around the €150,000 mark – I need to suf­fer!” he laughs. “Top level county play­ers run 12-13kms in a game, but I’m not top level and would cover only a frac­tion of that. We’d do team drills and gym work, but very lit­tle en­durance run­ning so this is all com­pletely new to me. One of the unique chal­lenges run­ning at that level of cold is mak­ing sure that sweat can es­cape – if it freezes on your skin you’re in bother – whilst pro­tect­ing your­self from frost­bite. I’d love to do it within five hours, but the big thing is just mak­ing the fin­ish line.”

Sea­mus’ par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Ice Marathon is in hon­our of his mum Josie – “A very kind, very glam­orous woman, a great mother,” he says – who died by sui­cide when he was only eleven. While Sea­mus and his fam­ily have de­cided to keep the whys and where­fores pri­vate, he feels “duty-bound” to dis­cuss what hap­pened af­ter in or­der to help peo­ple who find them­selves in the same po­si­tion.

“I’m an only child, so I lost that fe­male fam­ily in­flu­ence for the rest of my life,” he re­flects. “Lots of lads give out about their older sis­ters, but I’d love to have had one. I went back to school the day af­ter mum’s fu­neral and tried to rein­tro­duce my­self to the stuff that was nor­mal – but it wasn’t nor­mal. I don’t re­mem­ber a whole pile of that spring and sum­mer. But then, in Septem­ber of that year, my dad started me off on a twelve-week coun­sel­ing pro­gramme fa­cil­i­tated by Rain­bows Ire­land and de­liv­ered by a won­der­ful woman called Sis­ter Nora. We did arts and crafts and played sports, and then she’d grace­fully draw con­ver­sa­tion out of us. Things like, ‘If you were teased in school to­day, who would you talk to now that your mum’s not around?’ Com­ing up with an answer – ‘I’d tell my teacher’ – and dis­cussing it was hugely ben­e­fi­cial.

“Sport was a ma­jor help too,” Sea­mus con­tin­ues. “The main sport in Cloughjor­dan is hurl­ing and my dad played for the lo­cal club, Kil­ru­ane MacDon­agh’s, for years and years and rep­re­sented Tip­per­ary for a while, so it was only nat­u­ral that I grav­i­tated to­wards it too.”

When did Sea­mus re­alise he was a bit de­cent?

“There’s some days you wouldn’t think that at all,” he laughs again. “I was quite young play­ing with our adult club side, and then made it onto the Tip­per­ary mi­nors. I was bump­ing from team to team and hav­ing a fair de­gree of suc­cess. I joined the Tip­per­ary se­nior squad in 2009. I was brought in with five or six other fel­las who were also aged 19 or 20, and that first year, cer­tainly, was the one who pro­gressed the least. A cou­ple of them went straight into the team and be­came All Stars, but I was treading wa­ter to stay in the squad.”

Never one to throw the towel in, Sea­mus stuck to the task and in Septem­ber 2010 picked up an All-Ire­land medal as

Tipp stopped Kilkenny’s drive for five with a 4-17 to 1-18 vic­tory at Cro­ker.

“We went into that match think­ing we were go­ing to win it,” he re­calls. “There was no doubt about that in our minds. I was a sub, so I just re­ally wanted to get on and play, which I did for a few min­utes. The man­age­ment team at the time drove the idea that if you’re brought on at what­ever stage of the game, you con­trib­ute and make things bet­ter. Sea­mus Cal­li­nan came on that day and got two points, Benny Dunne came on and scored a point and I also came on and scored a point in the 73rd minute, so that was four points from off the bench. It was only a hand­ful of min­utes, but I felt like I did my bit.”

Were there sports psy­chol­o­gists avail­able to him when he was play­ing at se­nior level for Tip­per­ary?

“Yes, we had a full-time sports psy­chol­o­gist, Caro­line Cur­rid, work­ing with us both in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively, which was im­por­tant be­cause you’re very aware that the whole county is pin­ning its hopes on you,” Sea­mus re­flects. “I wasn’t privy to the con­ver­sa­tions the other lads were hav­ing with Caro­line, but a few of them went to see her af­ter we took a past­ing from Cork in the first round of the Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship. As proud as peo­ple are of the team, they were dis­ap­pointed with that per­for­mance – but no more than we were dis­ap­pointed with our­selves. When you’re putting that level of com­mit­ment into an am­a­teur sport, you never just go through the mo­tions.

“As with rugby and soc­cer, there’s a very strong mas­cu­line cul­ture to the men’s game. I’ve rarely been in dress­ing rooms over the years where you’d get open emo­tions from play­ers about them­selves per­son­ally. It’s im­por­tant from a well­ness point of view that they don’t bot­tle that sort of stuff up.”

Help­ing to get word of his Antarc­tic Ice Marathon out has been Gaelic Voices For Change, a group of past and present in­ter-county play­ers, 400 of whom will be sleep­ing rough around the coun­try in De­cem­ber in sol­i­dar­ity with Ire­land’s home­less. There are also links to in­ter­views like the ‘Si­lence Is Not The Answer’ one with Nicole Owens, the Dublin foot­baller, in which she dis­cusses her sex­u­al­ity.

“That was a very brave, hon­est piece with Nicole,” Sea­mus en­thuses. “Gaelic Voices For Change was founded in Septem­ber 2017 to host the first sol­i­dar­ity sleep-out, and has sub­se­quently taken on other so­cial is­sues such as men­tal health. We want to make the GAA as in­clu­sive and sup­port­ive of the com­mu­ni­ties we’re rooted in as pos­si­ble.”

"I’VE RARELY BEEN IN DRESS­ING ROOMS OVER THE YEARS WHERE YOU’D GET OPEN EMO­TIONS FROM PLAY­ERS ABOUT THEM­SELVES PER­SON­ALLY."

Help Sea­mus raise €200,000 for Pi­eta House and Liv­ing Links Tip­per­ary by do­nat­ing to ie.gofundme.com/run­ning­for­josie

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The Ice Marathon and a young Shane with his late mother, Josie.

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