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Willie Anderson on tragedy, therapy and how he's lived with guilt

Former Ireland rugby player Willie Anderson joined Joe Molloy on Wednesday Night Rugby to discus...

Cian Fahey
Cian Fahey

15:00 13 Oct 2021



Cian Fahey
Cian Fahey

15:00 13 Oct 2021


Former Ireland rugby player Willie Anderson joined Joe Molloy on Wednesday Night Rugby to discuss his new book.

Willie Anderson played 27 times for Ireland as a second row between 1984 and 1990.

Anderson himself suggests that while his book is based on his life and rugby is a big part of his life, it's not really a book about rugby or his rugby life. Maybe the most significant moment came in 1992 away from rugby altogether.

In 1992, Anderson was coming to the end of his playing career.

In 1992, Glen McLernon was an 11-year-old schoolboy.

For any driver on the road, it was the worst-case scenario. McLernon ran through a gap between a bus and a tractor, causing an unavoidable collision between Anderson's car and the young child. Anderson says he remembers the child's tie on his windshield and he could barely walk at the funeral a few days later.

"It's called tragedy in the book and that's what it was," Anderson said.

"It was a tragedy for both families. Not a day goes past that I wouldn't have thought of Glen. I was very touched by the fact that Glen's father was very forthcoming, he wasn't in any way disrespectful. He was very respectful of what I was doing and I wanted him to be in the memory of Glen.

"He was very charitable in saying of what I could put in the book. He was happy enough to go in."

The McLernon family have since moved over to Cornwall.

"I was very fortunate to have a tremendously fantastic lady in my wife Heather and my family who helped me through. My brother and my sister and people around me.

"From that, I knew I had changed a little bit. Not to say too much but I prioritised my life a little bit more in terms of my family. Whereas it had been rugby, rugby, rugby. I did that. But at the end of the day it's something I have to live with. It had an effect on me massively.

"And obviously it had a massive effect on Glen's parents and family as well."

Anderson revealed that he received a letter from a lady in Meath whose son had been killed by a drunk driver. It's important to note that Anderson wasn't drinking when his incident occured.

Living on with the guilt of the tragedy led Anderson to start drinking as a coping mechanism. He described dealing with the guilt afterwards as "The door was shut but it would never close...If I do think of it, I try to think about something positive like my family. That's the way I looked at it, I had to prioritise my family. I had to look after them."

The difference for Anderson before and after the accident was that he used to just drink socially, often as part of celebrations after rugby games, then he started drinking whiskey at home.

"I think probably as well when you're coming to the end of your career coaching or teaching or whatever, and you start to see the end coming in, that might have been having an effect as well. There's no doubt it had an effect. Because I trained so hard in the 80s and early 90s, we had nights craic, but I wouldn't have touched it before a match.

"Some nights I wouldn't have drank at all. But as it went on it certainly had an effect. The accident had an effect on me.

"Maybe I was subconsciously trying to blank it out."

Anderson eventually went and got therapy.

"It helped. It was great. Going to addiction and talking to the guy he was brutally honest with me and then I was able to pinpoint it. By even admitting to it, it was like a weight off my shoulders. That was drink gone. I haven't drank for six years now.

"I say I'm probably better craic now than I was then."

If you want to receive support in relation to alcohol, you can call the national support line on 1800 459 459 or email [email protected] You can also visit the website drugs.ie for more information.

Andy Friend breaks down the three principles of the Connacht Way

 

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