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Cocaine in our clubs: how worried should we be?

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by Adam Moynihan

Championship structures and the long overdue merger with the LGFA will grab the headlines but Motion 34 at tomorrow’s GAA Congress also merits examination.

Laois club Rathdowney Errill have suggested that all club players should be required to complete courses on alcohol, gambling and substance abuse. If the motion passes, any player who lines out for their team without taking the requisite courses faces a one-match ban.

Rathdowney Errill chairman Tim Barry told RTÉ’s Marty Morrissey that he has seen young people taking cocaine. "It frightened me,” he said. “I saw the wildness that got into them after using this drug. Then I became aware that this was freely available.”

A few months ago, addiction counsellor and former Limerick hurler Ciarán Carey painted a stark picture. “It’s rippling through most villages and parishes in the country and there aren’t too many clubs where cocaine isn’t alive. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid to say that about all codes; soccer, rugby, GAA or whatever, it’s gone that serious.”

If that is the case, the first question is: why? Why is cocaine prevalent in so many of our sports clubs, even ones far removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life?

AVAILABLE

For starters, it would probably be safe to assume that drugs like cocaine are more readily available in Ireland today than they were, say, 20 years ago. It stands to reason that this is particularly true of rural Ireland.

I have also noticed a blurring of the lines between country and town clubs over the years – young men from the town and young men from the country are culturally and infrastucturally closer than ever before - and this is likely a factor in the spread of drugs in rural settings.

In Ireland in general, attitudes towards recreational drugs are gradually relaxing, and they have been for some time. There is less of a taboo now than there was 10 or 15 years ago, for example, and that trend is likely to continue.

Also, the age profile of teams has changed, particularly in the GAA. It’s a young man’s game these days, and young men are more likely to experiment with illicit drugs than guys in their mid-to-late-thirties.

HEALTH

The second question is: should we be worried? Should we be as frightened as the club chairman in Laois, who was spurred into action by the “wildness” in his neighbours’ eyes?

Health is naturally the primary concern. Abusing any substance is dangerous and the fact that cocaine is unregulated is hugely problematic. If fellas in your local are taking coke, you can be 100% certain that they have no idea where it came from or what exactly is in it. (Whether or not legalising such produce would help is perhaps a topic for another day, and without question one that is beyond my remit as a sportswriter for the Killarney Advertiser.)

There is also the sporting question of whether or not the use of recreational drugs can hinder a player’s performance on the pitch. Again, I’m not an expert, but I don’t think a doctor would contradict me if I suggested that abusing any substance over a period of time will inevitably take its toll.

PRESSURE

As potentially serious as the physical dangers are, they are not more concerning to me than the psychological ones. Personally, I would be worried about the pressure young players are under when they graduate to a senior team environment in which drug use is commonplace.

Let’s say a number of players are taking cocaine on a team night out. If you’re part of the group, it would be difficult to not be aware of it, and even being aware of it makes things awkward. While I don’t believe there would be peer pressure in an explicit, 1980’s anti-drug advert, "what are you, some kind of chicken?" kind of way, there would still be pressure. Everyone wants to fit in. “If some of the lads are taking it, do I need to take it to be one of the lads?”

The reality is that if someone really wants to try it, they will. But if an individual doesn’t want to go down that road, they shouldn’t feel as though they have to.

Courses like the ones suggested by the Rathdowney Errill chairman could be beneficial, but ultimately I think there’s a huge onus on the senior players within the group keep an eye out for their younger teammates. Be open about it. Explain that there’s no expectation for them to partake and it’s not going to change what people think of them. Drugs aren’t for everyone. Be yourself.

Even if they have been exposed to cocaine before they join the senior team - which is possible - the elder statesmen can still have a word.

The biggest problem with vices like cocaine is that you never know how someone is going to take to it. For most people, it’s a phase. For others, it becomes an addiction. The same goes for drinking for that matter, and gambling.

(As an aside, I think there is a degree of hypocrisy in this discussion. People of a certain generation will be appalled at the very notion that someone in their club might take cocaine, but they’ll turn a blind eye to club members who may have issues with alcohol or betting. Legality is a factor here, naturally, but even so. Something being legal doesn’t necessarily make it safe.)

So, yes, education is important. But when it comes down to it, if one of the lads is in trouble, or even in danger of getting themselves into trouble, the leaders in the dressing room should be there to get them out of it. Or at least to point them in the right direction.

After all, isn’t that what teammates are for?

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Killarney Valley AC named Club of the Year at national awards ceremony

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Members of Killarney Valley Athletics Club had cause for celebration on Wednesday as they picked up the prestigious Development Club of the Year prize at the 123.ie National Athletics Awards.

The award is handed out annually to a club who have made a positive impact on behalf of the sport within their community.

Sprinter Sarah Leahy of Killarney Valley and UL was also honoured with the Female University Athlete of the Year award.

Speaking to the Killarney Advertiser, coach and committee member Tomás Griffin said he and his clubmates were “delighted” and “very proud” to accept the Club Development award on behalf of all their athletes, coaches and administrators. The opening of their new track alongside St Brendan’s College in 2020 has been crucial, Griffin explained.

“The facility a catalyst but the passion was always there and we had people doing their best and coaching long before there was a track. To see the momentum that came with the opening of the track being maintained is great. We now have a waiting list of people looking to join the club.

“Did we see ourselves winning an award like this, in an organisation of 53,000 members and 400 clubs? No. But was it always possible? Yes. Killarney as a town across all sports – Gaelic football, soccer, basketball, cycling, judo, rock climbing – it’s a place where people excel. The bar is already raised. But being able to reach this level and achieve what we have in just two years shows what other talent is out there.”

Killarney Valley now boast five Irish internationals, 320 registered members and 22 Athletics Ireland accredited coaches. The club won 107 provincial and national medals in 2022, and they had 155 graduates from their Couch to 5k programme. Many of these participants are now regulars in the local Park Run and are continuing their personal health and fitness journeys with the club.

Nine Killarney Valley representatives attended the awards ceremony on Wednesday: Tomás Griffin, Jerry Griffin (chairperson), Bríd Stack, Gene Courtney, Con Lynch, Karen Smith, Sarah Leahy, Jordan Lee, and Madie Wilson-Walker. Sarah’s parents Mike and Marie also made the journey.

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Jiu-jitsu champion Wilson da Silva sets sights on world title

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This week Adam Moynihan called to the Movement & Fitness Club on New Street to catch up with Killarney man Wilson da Silva. The 38-year-old Brazilian recently won gold at the European Championship for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and now he’s gunning for a world title.

Wilson, congratulations on your latest success in Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Thank you, Adam.

Before we chat about that, let’s go back to the start. How did you end up living in Killarney?

I came here around 15 years ago because I met someone from Killorglin and we went out for five or six years. After we broke up, I came to Killarney. I’m pretty much half-local, half-Brazilian now.

What part of Brazil are you from?

The northeast. A place called Recife. If you look at the map, it’s the nearest point to Ireland.

Do you get to go home often?

I try to go once a year, you know? I was home earlier this year and then before Covid. But once a year I go home in the summertime.

It must be nice to get some sunshine.

It’s nice, man. Even recently the doctor told me I have Vitamin D deficiency. My skin colour needs the sun! So I go home once a year. I follow the doctor’s advice.

How did you get into jiu-jitsu?

I did it back home in Brazil but I continued here in Killarney. I trained with guys here, Pedro Bessa and Tom McGuire. Then there is another club in Killarney and I trained with them up until four years ago. Things weren’t working out so I started my own gym. I just wanted to do things my way which was to have a clean place, no ego, no drama, no stress, no jealousy. Just come, train jiu-jitsu and help each other. And it’s going well.

Was it hard to go out on your own?

In the beginning it was really difficult because I was opening a second club in the town, on my own. There was really only one guy who wanted to train with me, but then my fiancé (Ewelina) started training and one became two, two became three, and it started to grow. Now we have classes for babies from three years up, kids and teenagers. We’re doing jiu-jitsu and capoeira for all ages. I guess it’s something good for the community.

Can you tell me a bit about jiu-jitsu? Is it similar to other sports?

If you were to describe jiu-jitsu to someone who never saw it, it would be very similar to judo. You have people throwing each other and putting each other on the floor. The jiu-jitsu match is five minutes long and the goal is to checkmate the opponent, to make your opponent quit, or tap out. So there is a lot of ground work, grappling, and wrestling. It’s an excellent sport and great for self-defence. I can’t recommend jiu-jitsu enough.

So there’s no striking?

There is no striking but [in terms of self-defence] there is ducking from striking, turning a strike into a mobilisation. It’s about finding locks on the body – the joint moves this way for example (he turns his arm) – figuring out how the anatomy of the body works.

It seems quite technical and intellectual.

Yes, it’s a very intelligent sport. I trained in weightlifting for a long time, for many years. With time it simply comes down to reps, breaking muscle fibre, and you’re not learning anything. It’s boring. With jiu-jitsu you’re constantly thinking. You’re constantly working your brain.

I compare it to a game of chess. First you figure out how to move the pieces, and then you have to play strategy. Look ahead to the next move and what your opponent can do to you. The moves are complicated and you’re always learning new things. It requires a lot of focus and discipline to get good at it. You don’t get bored with jiu-jitsu.

Is the focus and discipline side of it good for the kids who come to your gym?

Yes, definitely. I find that it is so beneficial for the kids. The kids want to win but if they want to win, they need to learn the moves. In order to learn the moves, they have to pay attention. So straight away it develops focus and concentration and discipline. If they do not pay attention, if they run around the place, they’re going to lose when they spar. It fixes itself. The guys who come in, pay attention, and it makes the others not want to lose so they pay attention and worker hard to learn the moves.

You can see the difference in the kids when they come here. We try to make them comfortable in uncomfortable situations so that when you take the child out of the jiu-jitsu class and they have a to deal with a hard subject in school, or a bully, they are mentally stronger.

I have witnessed that myself. I worked in security for many years and before I dedicated myself to jiu-jitsu, I found it easy to lose the head. But the more hours I put into the gym and training in jiu-jitsu, the more comfortable I became with frustrating situations. You’re able to remain calm. That’s a benefit of jiu-jitsu.

How important is size in jiu-jitsu?

That’s a tricky one. People say that size doesn’t matter. It definitely does. There’s no doubt about that. But the beauty of jiu-jitsu is that once you have the technique, you’re able to apply it against bigger guys. You know, the bigger guys have big muscles and bigger egos, but if the small guy trains hard he will be able to move the big guy’s body in a way that works against him. The big guy who goes to the gym, he’s used to pushing the bar this way (straight out), whereas the guy who knows jiu-jitsu knows that if he moves the bigger guys arms here (upwards), he’s not strong anymore. Now the bench press is worth nothing.

Bigger guys think they are unbeatable. The small guys have to work for it. I always motivate the guys here in the gym to be humble. You always have to consider yourself the second best, the guy who wants to be first. The moment you think that you’re bigger and better than everyone else, you stop working.

Tell me about your recent victories in London, Rome and Abu Dhabi.

Yeah, so I went to the UK and managed to win four golds at the London Open in the ‘Gi’, ‘A’, ‘No-Gi’ and ‘Absolute’ categories. (The ‘Gi’ is a uniform sometimes worn in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. There are categories in which the Gi is worn – ‘Gi’ – and categories in which it is not – ‘No-Gi’. The ‘Absolute’ is an open weight division).

Then a couple of weeks ago I travelled to Rome to compete in the European Championship. The day before that event, the Rome Open was on and since I was already there, I signed up for that too. I won the first fight, submitted the guy, but then in the final I lost. It was a good lesson for me. Coming from so many wins, I thought I was going to smash this other guy. I got a bit cocky. Losing settled me down and humbled me a little bit. I went back to my accommodation and analysed my mistakes. I hoped that the next day I would be able to play a strategy to win.

In the end I managed to win four fights and win the biggest European tournament – the No-Gi European Championship. It was my dream. I have been there twice before and got knocked out in the quarter-final, and came third in the Gi division.

It was really emotional for me. It was a great achievement. Even now when I’m talking, I feel emotional. I don’t train that much with No-Gi so to come first in Europe, it’s hard to believe.

It’s really hard to run and promote a club and also train and win tournaments, a lot of people say it’s not possible, but I’m putting a lot of hours into this and proving that it is possible. When you work so hard, with the help of my training partners, the results have to come.

And you weren’t finished yet. Where did you go next?

Yeah, to finish the story, after winning the European tournament on the Saturday, I flew to Abu Dhabi on Monday for the World Championship. I managed to go there and win three fights before losing the semi-final after getting beat pretty hard. I got my ass kicked by the winner. Then I had to fight to win the third place [match]. So, even though it’s only third place, it’s third place on the biggest podium in the sport.

Is it normal to compete in this number of events in quick succession?

No. It’s crazy to do so many competitions in a short period of time. I usually take a month or two months off before the next competition. It’s expensive too and I must thank Kevin Leahy [from the neighbouring Black Sheep Hostel] for sponsoring me. But after London, I had a feeling that there was no stopping me. I’m healthy. I’m not injured. Now is my moment and I have to take the chance.

It was hard enough to believe that I won the European Championship but to go to Abu Dhabi and fight against the best guys in the world… It’s a dream. Well, it’s not a dream now because it happened. It’s a reality.

Is this it for you now? Have you achieved all you want to achieve?

No, there’s more. Much more. I want to win the World Championship in California next year. For sure I would like to win the European Championship next year too.

But my goal is more than just winning championships, it’s to build champions. I want to teach people and share techniques that are proven to work. As I try to grow the gym, I will continue competing for as long as God blesses me with this health. That’s it.

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