Meet the Celtics: Healthy Club Officer Tom Lacey

Tom Lacey at a training session in Cologne

In our interview series we take the time to get to know our players and members and get a little insight into their lives. We find out about their experiences of Gaelic football and hurling, how they came to the sports, their experience with the Celtics, life in Germany and in particular about life in our „Domstadt“.

This time we present Tom Lacey. As our official Healthy Club Officer, he takes care of things regarding „Mental Health“. In this interview, he talks about his journey to Germany, how he became Healthy Club Officer and his own personal experiences with mental health issues.

Hey Tom, why don’t we start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Hello, my name is Tom Lacey. I am from Clondalkin in Dublin. I have been living in Germany for over five years now. Now with two young beautiful children, Fiona (nearly 3) and Kilian (6 months) I plan to stay here a lot longer now. 🙂

Why did you come to Germany?
Like a lot of people, I moved to Germany for love. I was in a long term relationship for two years where I flew to and from Munich every two weeks, which was really fun but very expensive, so then I decided to move to Germany with a sabbatical with my old company IBM. The rest, as they say, is history.

How have you found your time here in Germany?
I really like Germany. I like the fact that there is so much to do all over the country. You can go hiking in the mountains, go skiing in the south, and visit cities or small towns as there are so many. Or if you don’t want to stay in Germany for the tourism, you can simply drive for a few hours or a few minutes to surrounding and bordering countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria etc.

What did you find most interesting or different about your time in Germany?
The language! It is so difficult to try and master. My German has greatly improved since I moved here, but of course, it can always be better, if possible…verdammt!
Also, the myth that the German public transport runs on time is nonsense…. The Deutsche Bahn (German train system) is either always late, not functioning, or there is a strike.

Tom Lacey
Tom Lacey

Were you involved in GAA back in Ireland?
Back home in Dublin, I only ever really played soccer all of my life. I did play a bit of GAA when I was younger in school, but not really out of choice. However, to this day, I love to watch The Dubs and go to Croke park when possible. “6 in a row”

How did you get involved in GAA Germany?
I lived in North Germany (Cuxhaven) for a while and then moved to Hamburg for work. There I found the Hamburg GAA Club. My main aim was to meet new people and to get to know Hamburg a bit better. Then about a year later, I moved down to North Rhine-Westphalia to a small city about 30 minutes from Cologne called Monheim am Rhein. I originally played with our “enemy” Düsseldorf before I switched my allegiance to Cologne Celtics GAA. And I am happy with my decision because the money is better (ich mach nur Spaß). When I first joined the Celts, there were about 4 people at training sessions… Now we can field two teams of ten against each other in training sessions, which is not even possible for some clubs back home—a huge effort by all involved.

So now you are the club’s ‘Healthy Club Officer’, how have you found that, and why did you get involved?
Our former club chairman Stephen O’Rourke approached me and asked if I would consider being the club’s healthy club officer. I was genuinely humbled when he asked me as this role involves a lot of trust. I was doing some research after Stephen asked me, and I’ve noticed that the GAA back home in Ireland are very, very much in touch with mental health. After reading a bit more about this, it gave me the added motivation to get involved even more so. But the main reason why I accepted Stephen’s request was because I have a lot of my own experiences and challenges regularly with my own mental health. I feel this is something I can add value to the club and help out as much as possible.

“ I would love everybody in the club or associated with our club to completely normalise and be comfortable talking about mental health

What is the role of the Healthy Club officer?
Fundamentally, our job is to provide as much information surrounding mental health and promote best practices within the club. We are also here to listen and encourage others to do so. We are not qualified counsellors or Psychologists; however, we provide information into local support groups for anyone who feels they may need it. So far, the role has even helped me deal better with my own mental health issues.

Would you care to elaborate a bit more surrounding your mental health?
Yes, of course, I am so used to thinking about my own mental health, and I am so used to speaking to other people about my mental health. I am extremely comfortable speaking about my challenges now, but it took a while. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always suffered from anxiety, depression which has led to, of course, negative thoughts and a lot of negative experiences, which creates insecurity, lacking self-confidence and self-doubt….to mention but a few. There was a line in a Robbie William song Feel which summed me up… “I don’t wanna die, but I ain’t keen on living either”. Now, I speak openly to my friends and family regularly, which is fantastic, and I see a counsellor regularly… I am definitely in a better place mentally now than I have been for a long time. Onwards and upwards.

What have been your biggest obstacles and hurdles for yourself with your struggle?
For me, the biggest obstacle and hurdle have been not knowing what is going on in my head and not knowing if there is anybody there to listen to me and to really understand me. It was about 15 years ago, and I knew I could not deal with this on my own. So as soon as I made the first step, I was going to speak to a family member and then go on to speak with the local GP (Hausarzt). To put it very simply… If I did not speak out about my own demons… I would not be having this interview today.

What would you like to achieve as the Celtic’s Healthy Club Officer?
Just over a year ago, myself and the other mental Healthy Club Officers from around Europe all met in the Irish Embassy in Berlin. We all agreed that the most important thing is to talk about and provide information regarding mental health. So for me, the most important thing is that everybody within our club and, for that matter, their friends and families to know that the Cologne Celtics GAA club is there for each other, we are there to support our players, we are there to assist and if possible advise ourselves and each other on how to deal with mental health issues.

What would be the best outcome for the Cologne Celtics GAA mental health project?
I would love everybody in the club or associated with our club to completely normalise and be comfortable talking about mental health… or simply talk about when you are not feeling right. Most people, including myself, find it easy to talk about a sore ankle or knee or elbow, but sometimes we as human beings find it difficult to talk about sad things, pain or suffering that we have within ourselves and within our own thoughts. So I think that the Cologne GAA expectation for this year and beyond should be to try to make it as common practice during training sessions, WhatsApp groups, meetings etc., to talk and normalise mental health.

What do you feel is the best advice to give to anyone who may be feeling down or perhaps longer-term depression, numbness or anxiety?
Open up and talk to a friend, family member, doctor, work colleague or helpline. You are not alone, and you are experiencing what millions of people around the world experience on a daily basis. This is much more common than you think, and it is 100% fixable.

Any last words before we finish with this interview?
Yes, this Club offers much much more than ‘just’ sport; we really are a community and a family. That is why I feel extremely privileged to be The Celtics Healthy Club Officer. Love and peace of mind to you and yours.

(For Fiona and Kilian, love papa xxxxx)

We are here

We can help you if you’re frustrated about the pandemic, if you’re not feeling well, if you don’t know where to turn. Sometimes you just need someone to talk to, but sometimes the problems weigh so heavily that professional advice is a way out. We can help you in any case. Just get in touch with us and together we’ll work it out.

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