DARREN McCauley isn’t your average footballer!
He’s been one of the Irish League’s most exciting talents over recent years but the ex-Celtic trainee doesn’t exactly conform to the stereotypical image of a footballer.
“Some people think I’m mad. Some find it interesting and others don’t know how to take me. Mickey McCrudden (Institute striker) thinks I’m nuts,” he laughed.
McCauley, who is a part-time nutrition student at University Ulster Coleraine, admits he’s the sort who can normally be found in the self-help section of your local library.
And some of his recent life-choices and his philosophical outlook on life has left some teammates, friends and opposition players scratching their heads.
His decision to pen and then recite a poem about Coleraine’s title tilt last year during a live radio interview caused quite a stir too but he isn’t afraid to stand out from the crowd.
“Being self-expressive without alcohol can be tough so it’s something I’ve tried to do with poetry.”
At 27 years of age McCauley has experienced plenty of highs and lows and was left disillusioned when his short loan spell at SPL giants, Celtic from his hometown club, Derry City didn’t go as planned back in 2010.
The Gobnascale man turned to drink and was caught up, like many of his peers, in the drinking culture which often goes hand-in-hand with the sport. The ‘win, draw or lose, we’ll be on the booze’ mentality might not be as prevalent these days but it was exactly that attitude which McCauley found himself swept up by while plying his trade for local clubs, Institute and Coleraine.
“I came back from Celtic and I was disillusioned,” he recalled. “I was back in Derry and all I wanted to do was drink. I was going to the same bars with the same people. I was 19 and on the football scrapheap.”
His career hadn’t gone in the direction he had hoped and he claims he became ‘stuck in a rut’, suffering three-day hangovers, low motivation and anxiety. In hindsight, he realises it was the breakdown of a relationship with his former girlfriend which prompted him to act.
“When that ended I used alcohol as a coping mechanism or something to do because I was bored,” he explained. “You get stuck in a rut and before you know it you’re abusing alcohol.
“I just thought I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted to change and do something positive and help other people. That (his failed relationship) was definitely a big factor subconsciously. I didn’t know it at the time but when looking back, it definitely was the catalyst.”
Since his ‘moment of clarity’ he’s decided to tackle the drinking culture through education. And his journey towards a more self-fulfilled and enriched life led him to his latest challenge - the ‘One Year No Beer’ resolution which began in January 2018 and which he successfully completed earlier this month. And he claims he’s never been happier!
During the past 12 months he’s been able to focus totally on his education and his football career without the distraction of drink and it’s ill effects.
It’s been an enlightening experience for the Waterside man and richly rewarding, both on and off the pitch. He believes he’s the fittest he’s ever been and mentally is in the best place.
With productivity through the roof, he’s filled the void left by drinking and socialising in pubs with devotion to yoga and meditation and feels every part of his life is flourishing as he prepares to take the next step in his football career by going full-time, having decided to leave Coleraine where he won the Irish Cup last season.
Full-time football demands marked improvements in fitness with positive attitudes towards the role of nutrition, preparation and training and McCauley believes his experience over the last year has left him in the perfect place to take up a new challenge and re-launch his full-time career.
“It was just one of those things where I wanted to see what would happen and how it would benefit me,” he said. “It definitely did help my football and life outside of football. I didn’t realise how much it was holding me back physically and mentally. I’m a much happier person now that I’ve done the year - without a doubt!
“In Derry you can go out drinking three or four times a week and that’s seen as normal behaviour but it’s not.”
McCauley is hoping his experience will strike a chord with someone else and inspire them to make positive changes in their own lives.
“If the ‘One Year, No Beer’ challenge can help someone and raise awareness of that whole concept then happy days. You have more clarity, more money and can put in more effort with people and give more.
“You can have better friendships and relationships and all those wee things came into it. I found I had more purpose and more meaning to my life. I looked for different things to do like yoga and meditation or even just going for a coffee with friend - maintaining relationships by doing things that don’t involve alcohol.
“Obviously fitness is a big thing and exercise has been a life-saver for me. During the past year I’ve never been as fit because I’ve been able to try boxing, yoga - all different things which I don’t think I would’ve done if I was lying hungover on a Sunday and before you know it, you don’t come around to yourself until the Wednesday. All those different factors added up and made me fitter and it’s been great.”
Ex-England manager, Roy Hodgson famously enlisted sports psychologist, Dr Steve Peters to help prepare his players for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and McCauley believes concentrating on the power of positivity and meditation techniques have helped improve him as a player. And it’s something he believes has changed his life for the better.
“The meditation is just about reading different books and in particular a book called ‘The Power of your Subconscious Mind’ which really helped me with trying to manifest the things in my life that I want through an idea called the Law of Attraction’.
“Having those positive thoughts and realising who I want to be as a person has helped me change my life. It’s basically about having a thought and creating the reality of it. So you’ll find me in the self-help section of most libraries,” he quipped.
“It’s been really refreshing to have these different ideas and work through different emotions like self-worth or realise that you deserve to be the best person you can be and the best footballer you can be.
“I think somewhere in our psyche, being proud of who you are isn’t really a big thing in Ireland. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high and that’s something I didn’t realise for a long time.
“It’s certainly a big factor, both on and off the football pitch. If you can control your emotions then you’ll not do too bad.”
Manchester United legend, Ryan Giggs claimed practising yoga had prolonged his playing career until the age of 40 and McCauley is in no doubt it’s helped improve his own game and he hopes he’ll get an extra few years in the sport as a result.
“I’ve been doing yoga for a couple of years but last year I started doing it every day. It’s just something which keeps me more focused and in tune with the goals I want to achieve whether that’s financial or football or whatever it is.
“There’s something about the whole philosophy behind it that has a profound impact on me, I can’t really explain it.”
The generous Derry man is constantly thinking of ways he can better himself while helping others and last year he raised awareness of homelessness across Ireland by sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin which helped raise almost £2,000 for the Peter McVerry Trust and he’s willing to use his position as a footballer to help anyone in need.
“I thought if I did something positive it would give me more encouragement with the ‘One Year No Beer’ and I think it’s vital to go down that avenue of helping other people. For me it worked. It helped me to get out of my own mind and do something positive.”
While he’s not gone teetotal just yet, he has adopted a sensible approach to alcohol and a self-policing attitude with the usual Saturday or Sunday post-match binge a thing of the past.
“I haven’t had a drink since which is more down to the fact I’ve got three exams. I’m studying Nutrition in my final year at Coleraine. I’ve three exams and obviously my football situation to sort out so I want to keep a clear head and I haven’t had a drink.
“That’s not to say I won’t have a couple of pints in the future, I’ll just take things as they come but it’s been a brilliant experience and I’ve certainly reaped the benefits during the past year.”