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Dealing with a stutter in the GAA

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In December 2015, Tiernan McVey was named on the Gaelic Life Team of the week for his performance between the posts for Moortown at the St Paul’s Ulster Club Minor Tournament.

It is a moment that he cherishes, as it represented a major achievement for someone who had managed to battle with and conquer a stammer.

How he managed to get that nomination was interesting in itself. The 16-year-old McVey hadn’t been named on the starting side who were up against Crossmaglen, but he was called into action when first choice keeper was black carded.

In this difficult situation one might have expected a lesser player to wilt, but McVey played admirably, pulling off a string of saves that kept Moortown in the game.

While they were not able to overcome the Armagh champions, however McVey had made his mark and he was duly selected as the number one stopper of that week.

He had enjoyed the success of winning a Tyrone minor championship as a team, but this was an individual achievement, and proof that sticking with playing football, despite the challenges of communicating with a stammer had been worth it.

When he was a lot younger Tiernan had ignored his the condition, and tried to deal with it in his own way. But he gradually realised thanks to input from family that he needed to take action, but he wasn’t sure what.

“I went to a speech therapist for a while, but they didn’t help,” he  said.

But he knew that he needed a solution. A keen footballer, he loved playing for his club Moortown, but having a stammer made it a challenge to take part and compete. He couldn’t communicate as easily with his team mates, and he also suffered some unwanted attention from opponents who would pick on him.

“Sometimes when you are out on the pitch it is hard to communicate.”

The Moortown minor team which Tiernan McVey is part of.

The Moortown minor team which Tiernan McVey is part of.

He moved schools, from St Mary’s Magherafelt to the Holy Trinity in Cookstown. More of his Moortown friends were there, and he felt more comfortable, but because of his stammer it was a challenge to make the switch.

“At the beginning it was tough, it was tough going into the football team.

“Because I was new people would ask a lot of questions and that could be tough.”

His solution was to join the McGuire programme.

The organisation was founded by David McGuire, who developed a system of managing the condition using a mixture of breathing techniques and psychology.

The technique very quickly became a great success. After five years, the programme had spread from Holland, David’s base, to the UK, Ireland, Norway, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

Tiernan is a massive proponent of the programme, which he has been involved in for the past two years.

He was inspired by people like Gareth Gates who had used the McGuire programme successfully to deal with his stammer, and he went on to take part in X factor.

“The McGuire programme had intensive lessons in a new way to talk. It took a lot of work but it is amazing what I have achieved in such a short space of time.

“Before I joined the course I ignored my stammer, I just tried to deal with it myself.”

But after taking part in the programme, he began to understand that he had to face the issue head on.

Armed with the new techniques he managed to control his stammer.

“It’s about controlling it, rather than it controlling you,” he said.

McVey also revealed that he has had to deal with unwanted attention on the field in the past. Opposing players have made fun of his stammer.

He said that it has happened a lot less than if he were an outfield player, but that it has happened.

“When I was younger it annoyed me. But if it happens now I don’t care. If you have accepted it then you can deal with people calling you names. Name calling is not going to change my attitude.”

However, he does accept that it is important that he can control his stammer for the good of the team. And as a footballer on a minor team, and a goalkeeper at that, being able to communicate to his team is important.

“I now don’t have any problem chatting with team mates. I know that before hand it might have been a problem.”

He says that he has no issue with playing.

“I give out instructions all the time now. The odd time I want to give an instructions but it doesn’t come out.”

At the moment he is out of action. He broke his thumb and has been sidelined from schools and clubs action. But he has aspirations of playing MacLarnon cup football for Holy Trinity, and in the next few years challenging for a place on the Moortown reserves and seniors.

All this serves to highlight his passion for the game.

McVey said that he thinks that Coaches need more help with coaching players. He said that there are misconceptions about those with the stammer. He said he knows coaches who single the players out and try to encourage them to speak, while others ignore them completely. He says that the latter is best.

“It would be good if there was help for coaches. It would help if they just treated us the same as everyone else.”

So why did Tiernan McVey choose to tell Gaelic Life to get his message about stammering and the McGuire programme?

“I wanted to help others, but particularly those in the GAA, I think there are people in the GAA who may be unsure about playing.”

If you want more information about the McGuire programme, see the website: www.McGuireprogramme.com

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