Mental health awareness. I always thought it was a rather dull phrase. A bit public sector. It doesn’t grab the attention; you know what I mean. Of course, I understand that you have to be careful how you talk about mental health. However, there are times where I feel a more drastic message might resonate a little. Something like; ‘we need to bloody help people or truckloads more will die’.

The truth is that mental health services in this part of these islands are very poor. This is not an attack on those who work at the coalface of these services who do unbelievable work, with at times both hands tied behind their back. It is simply stating a fact. There has been a systemic failure over the years brought about by chronic underfunding and chronic mismanagement.

When I worked as a news reporter in this newspaper I carried a series of stories on the mental health crisis that faces Northern Ireland. Hundreds of Children who’s mental health has an adverse effect on their everyday life waiting more than 13 weeks for an appointment. Other stories covered the overall malaise that transcended waiting lists right across the health service. In one of those reports which dealt with statistics from prior to the onset of Covid-19 Health Minister Robin Swann said the “system was broken”. He went on to say that it would need to be “rebuilt”.

Victoria Johnson has written similar stories in this paper in recent times. What is clear is that in this part of the province, we should all be worried about the tsunami of difficulty, and indeed change, that the health service is facing in the coming years.

So, what has all this to do with a GAA column. Well, it is all connected. We have seen the GAA, and society as a whole, come together to support each other during this pandemic. It has been inspirational. But there have undoubtedly been those who have shouldered large extent of the consequences of the restrictions we are living under. Those with vulnerable health conditions and the elderly have obviously been one sector. Another, and not as often mentioned, are our young people.

There has been a legal challenge through the courts in recent months that is challenging the current ban on children playing sports. It has now moved on to a judicial review and will be heard on March 18.

The case, brought on behalf of an individual child, argues the ban is harming children's physical and mental health. The lawyer acting on behalf of the child, said that their client's life had been reduced to "the size of a screen" as a result of the restrictions.

As time goes on it is hard to argue against that rationale. I am genuinely worried about the effects of the current lockdown is having on the whole society. In the past few weeks I have spoken to a number of young people who have expressed the difficulty they are experiencing with their mental health.

At this juncture it is important to point out that I am not advocating any of the tinfoil hat conspiracy theories that are doing the rounds when it comes to Covid-19. People who purport those theories, in my mind, are a danger to us all, and are wilfully refusing to look at the scientific evidence when it comes to this deadly virus.

All that said, however, in a mature society, we should be able to have a conversation about ways in which we can help people deal with the current difficulties they are facing. The answer is not, in my mind, to throw open the doors of the pubs. But perhaps we could throw open the gates of a few more outdoor spaces.

GAA and sports grounds seem to be arenas where relaxation could take place. And before you reach for your outrage let me explain. I am not saying any form of collective training should take place yet. But could a parent and their child not go down and kick around the pitch for a half an hour? Could a 19 year old, who perhaps is feeling beaten and mentally low for the first time in their life, not take a bag of balls down and shoot at some goalposts for an hour or so?

Collective training is not what I am suggesting here. However, would it be so bad if the spaces were open for people in our community to use on an individual basis?

A month ago, I would never have imagined writing this column. But, I am genuinely worried by what I have heard from young people who I have the pleasure of managing and coaching.

We are already facing a mental health crisis due to the deficiencies that were there long before Covid. I fear the crisis may be silently growing beyond out comprehension with each passing week.


Coa and Derrylin are the only two Fermanagh clubs who did not get their season finished in 2020. They are still to play the Junior final. With the current restrictions and soundings from Croke Park it seems unlikely that it would be played any time soon.

Well, in the spirit of always trying to be useful I have a suggestion. Wouldn’t it be great to play that final as a preliminary round to this year’s Intermediate Championship? Sounds out there, right? It is not. The winner of the game, whenever it happens, will play in the Intermediate championship first round in the 2021 competition. The loser will play in the Junior championship for 2021.

Why play it early in the season when management and players are trying to find themselves. Why not push it back until they are at their peak. It would add an extra layer of excitement too; that a one off random game might not bring. I even think the clubs might just go for it too. Sure, why not ask them?