Michael Donehue speaks to junior footy players on mental health, drugs and alcohol

Support: Michael Donehue with Benalla and district junior footballers. Photo by Contributed

Young footballers in Benalla, and their parents, had an opportunity to hear from mental health advocate Michael Donehue last week.

Mr Donehue was invited to speak by Benalla and District Junior Football president Damien Cooney who saw an opportunity to support his young players — many of whom have had a tough few years.

“During the last few years of COVID the kids had not been playing sport and had been in and out of school,” Mr Cooney said.

“We’ve got 150 kids who are part of our junior footy program and we felt a responsibility to do something to support their mental health.

"And we had an opportunity to provide some education and tools around some other pretty challenging topics — those being drugs and alcohol.

“While our involvement with the kids is football and sport based, our committee are keen to help our young people at, not only sport, but being better people and giving them those tools that help them with their sport, their school, and at home, to make better life choices.

“When I put this project together I was really wanting to get Michael, he's the perfect fit.

“He’s a local guy, whose been through the junior footy program in Benalla.

“He has a story to tell himself that resonates with the age group we’re dealing with and has a relatable message to get across.”

Mr Donehue said he had known Mr Cooney for some time.

“When he asked if I could have a chat with the younger players, from about 13 to the under 18s, I thought that was a really good idea,” Mr Donehue said.

“Three weeks ago I spoke to them about mental health, and I did another talk last night (Tuesday, June 15) which was on alcohol and drugs.

“The talks are as interactive as possible because it’s a younger age group, and I didn’t want them to be bored.

“We have group discussions and they ask questions about what they think about certain things around alcohol and drugs.

“And that helps me to see what’s important to them.

“Things like goal setting, how to support sober friends, what signs they can look out for in mates that you’re playing footy with.

“And on the mental health side, they might cover up what they’re gong through.

“You might see them twice a week at footy, so they can hide what they are going through pretty easily.

“So it’s about looking out for the signs and having difficult conversations.”

Community: Michael Donehue with some of Benalla's junior footy players and committee members. Photo by Contributed

Mr Donehue said he was pleased by how many parents came along to the talks.

“Last night we had about 120, including parents, and I think that is where these conversations can really start.

“Having a chat with parents and putting some of the things we spoke about into practice.

“It also show that supportive nature of the sporting community.

“The parents want to learn not only for themselves but for their kids as well.”

Mr Cooney said he felt, with the drink and drugs talk in particular, there were elements that some of the parents might not have been aware of.

“I think quite a few of the adults there learned some things, too,” he said.

“For both nights we wanted the parents there to hear these topics from Michael’s perspective.

“Because lot of the things discussed are around starting a conversation at home.”

Mr Donehue said it is important to address these types of things at a young age.

“I think the earlier we can talk about this stuff is the way we can change culture,” he said.

“If we can build good relationships at home, but also in the sporting, and wider community as well, people start to feel comfortable about these different topics.

“And it’s import to realise they can talk to people and it’s about finding someone you feel comfortable with, and trust, to have those conversations.”

Mr Cooney said he, and the Benalla and District Junior Football Committee, would like to thank Mr Donehue, and everyone who helped behind the scenes.

“And we would also like to thank Benalla Rural City Council, who provided a grant which helped us get the event organised,” he said.