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In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, former Premier League player and Republic of Ireland international Keith Treacy reveals how alcohol addiction curtailed his career and why he hopes others will heed the lessons that he learned too late.
It had been a slow descent but when the end finally came it was swift. Barnsley had wrapped up their training early that Christmas Day in 2014 to allow the players to enjoy Christmas dinner with their families. That was no good to Keith Treacy.All on his own, dinner was a bowl of pasta. Dessert was a bottle of vodka and a bottle of whisky. “They were both gone in the morning,” he tells Sky Sports. Alarming in any circumstances but particularly when Treacy was due to play at Preston on Boxing Day.”I woke up with the door being knocked by the driver who was going to take me to the game. There was blood and sick all over my sitting room where I had passed out. There was just that much harsh alcohol going into my system that I was vomiting blood.”He actually wanted to ring my mother and father because I was not in any fit state but I had a shower and sat on the bench at the game. I actually did the warm-up but as I turned to sprint, the people in the stands were getting blacker and blacker.”My peripheral vision was coming in and in. It was like tunnel vision. I told the gaffer that I had flu and could not play. He told me to sit behind the dugout and stay away from the lads.”I jumped on a plane to Dublin and I never went back.”Treacy had been a genuine talent, his direct running impressing manager Graeme Souness as soon as he arrived at Blackburn. He made his Premier League debut in 2008 while still a teenager in a win at Everton and before long he was a Republic of Ireland international.
But his professional career was over by the age of 26. He never returned to Barnsley or anywhere else, a career cut short by addiction. Only now, almost seven years on, is he beginning to rebuild, contemplating a return to football back home in Ireland.
Even that Christmas was not quite the end of his troubles. “I wouldn’t say that was the penny dropping but it was definitely a bit of a turning point.” Still, there were two more years of “alcohol, holidays, women and horses” before burning through his savings.
“I was not drinking because I liked the taste. I was drinking because I wanted to black out and forget, get up in the morning, get the football out of the way and do it all over again.
“Rock bottom was waking up in bed and all I could think about was going back to the pub. I think I was at the point where I could have lost my life with it. I was drinking to hurt myself.”
Treacy is not seeking sympathy. “I made a lot of bad decisions,” he says. “Nobody had a gun to my head and was forcing the drink down me or forcing me to do any of the other stuff I was doing. It was all me.” But could more be done to anticipate the problems he faced?He appreciates the support of the PFA but wonders whether it is reactive not proactive. He thinks of the managers who enabled him and a culture that placed extraordinary demands on a boy of 15 in a new country. The surprise is that more do not suffer the same fate.”It was quite a culture shock so to have nobody trying to settle you in or relax you or give you something to do after 1pm when you finish training,” adds Treacy.”There is only one way you are going to go.”
Part of the problem for Treacy is that his ambitions were achieved early. The goal of playing in the Premier League was ticked off in quick time. His international debut came under Giovanni Trapattoni at the opening of the new Aviva Stadium against Argentina.The story of that night sums up Treacy’s mentality. It should have been the start of something but it felt like the end. He walked out of the ground and made his way to the pub to see his grandfather just a stone’s throw away, handing him his shirt from the game.”I remember everyone calling me and saying, ‘You played against Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria.’ I just wasn’t interested. I just wanted to go. I walked out of the stadium, down to the pub, gave him the jersey because it was around his birthday, and we had a few pints. I could probably tell you more about the night in the pub than the match itself.”