Is there life after sport? What happens when sportspeople step away from the arena for the last time? When it comes to most careers, people in their mid-thirties tend to be approaching their professional peak, but whether you’re a professional rugby player or an (all-but) professional hurler, when you hit 35, your playing days are numbered. Damian Lawlor has spoken to fourteen Irish sportspeople about their experiences of transitioning from sportspeople to… people. Damian and former Irish international Niall Quinn joined Claire Byrne to talk about what happens When the World Stops Watching. Quinn, who is one of the 16 former sportspeople whose stories feature in the book, told Claire that he had a particularly hard time adjusting to life when he hung up his boots:
“I went from having all that adrenaline, all that inner strength that I had, that got me to the big days that, you know, had me wired to be as good as I was and as confident as I was. Suddenly, in one day, that was taken away.”
Niall Quinn wasn’t ready for it, clearly. But why? Claire asked why he hadn’t done more to prepare himself for the inevitable, especially given that he was 37 when he finished his playing career.
“I was so focused on maintaining my career and playing longer, I trained harder in my last year or two than I had in the previous 18. You get into a zone there where you don’t want to let go and when it does happen to you, it happens, literally, in one day. Suddenly the lights are gone out and an adjustment is needed. It’s kind of hard to accept that those lights have gone out, Claire. In the mid-30s you’re asked to give up everything you ever believed in and that you were told you were, you know, publicly a great guy and sport has made you this person and then suddenly overnight it’s taken away from you.”
For the book, Damian wanted to know who is looking after people whose sports careers are ending, so he spoke to sports psychologists, academics, consultants and people from Sport Ireland, to try to weave a narrative together and provide answers.
“When you’re talking to 16 athletes and all these stories and emotions come up, it doesn’t really have to be about sport at all, Claire, it’s about general retirement, I think, overall as well and all the struggles that people face.”
The book has some funny anecdotes to go with the serious side, though, such as Dublin’s Paul Flynn’s struggles with leaving the team’s WhatsApp group and Donncha O’Callaghan discovering what happens when you go to the toilet after eating snacks while watching a movie
“For the first time in about 18 years, his urine wasn’t clear, because he was used to drinking a certain amount of – probably five or six litres of water a day – and he came out with his mind blown, it was the first time he’d seen yellow urine in about two decades.”
Claire’s full chat with Damian Lawlor and Niall Quinn can be found by going here.
When the World Stops Watching: Life After the Game by Damian Lawlor is published by Black & White Publishing.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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