Rob Hennelly has hit out at Colm O’Rourke, labelling his recent comments on player welfare ‘old-fashioned’.
Ex-Meath star O’Rourke called much of the GPA’s work ‘bulls***’, saying there was a lot of ‘bluff and bluster’ from the player body.
His opinions were met with support in some quarters and criticism in others — especially when talking about players facing issues such as gambling or mental health problems.
O’Rourke said: “The statistics are available and it is plain that there is a small percentage of cases which need serious professional intervention.
“There are also a lot more of the ‘get over it’ type every young person must deal with.”
But Mayo goalkeeper Hennelly, 25, said: “He’s comparing generations, saying that his generation just got on with it and maybe inferring that our generation is soft and they had it harder than us.
“Genuinely there has never been a harder time to be a county player but at the same time there is still huge opportunity out there.
“If you look around the dressing room you have a hugely educated panel all doing well in their own careers, yet all of them at the peak of their powers as footballers, in an environment that is much harder than previous generations.
“Because if you work in a corporate environment now, it’s not easy.
“They don’t care if you play football for Mayo, they need you having an output.
“I have my own company, Love Media, so that gives me flexibility.
“But I’m looking at the rest of the guys and they are all going so far in their careers, yet the training loads and everything — which we enjoy doing — are at a level that is unprecedented.
So I don’t think it’s fair for someone from his generation to comment on our generation that we should basically get a kick up the hole.
“I think there are a lot of former players now taking swipes at the GPA.
“Fair play to them, they are entitled to their opinion but they could be doing a lot more instead of running down some of our generation of players.
“As well, the inference that only a small portion of players might get depressed or have addiction or gambling problems — I think that’s an out-of-date view.
“Nobody disputes that if there is the potential of just one person in our organisation to take his own life that we should care about him.
“It actually reflects our society at the moment.
“We have nearly 1,000 people in this country killing themselves every year.
“Yet it’s not the most important thing, it’s all about the banks and the EU.
“But if someone is actually doing something to help a person’s life — whether it’s gambling, depression, personal stress, not being in work, emigration — but we aren’t meant to care about them because it’s not affecting the majority, that’s a very cold environment to be a part of.”
Hennelly added that he feels inter-county players find it difficult to speak publicly on issues like mental health or Championship structures at the start of a season.
He added: “It’s hard for players at this time of year to start making a big issue about the Championship structure.
“Because the first thing people will say to you is, ‘You should be concentrating on playing for Mayo’ or playing for your position.
“Then you had an article that was a load of tripe — and people are agreeing with it, which is worse, because it’s so far away from what we should be talking about.
“It really does frustrate me as a player and as somebody who has had personal problems in the past.
“I’m very lucky that in my home environment I have a person who comes from the same generation as Colm O’Rourke in my Dad, that if I went to him and said, ‘I’ve a problem’ his answer wouldn’t be, ‘You need a shoe up
the hole and get on with it’. He would understand.
“There has been a lot of good work, especially in the area of emotional well-being and mental health.
“I don’t want it to be seen to be throwing out that fellas should just get on with it. It’s old-fashioned.”
But Hennelly disagrees with any opinion that playing county football is a burden.
The Breaffy clubman added: “It’s the biggest honour ever to play county football.
“And the opportunities it gives you are unbelievable.
“It’s a lot of dedication but I hate the word sacrifice, it’s not a sacrifice.”
This interview was originally published on Saturday, January 30th 2016 on thesun.ie.