Life after retirement was much more challenging than Brian O’Driscoll anticipated, as he struggled with moments of sadness when looking for a 'major purpose'.
Ireland legend Brian O'Driscoll joined Off The Ball to discuss the release of his new documentary: After the Roar.
The former Leinster, Ireland and Lions rugby captain goes on a personal journey of discovery to better understand the mental health struggles he - and other former elite sportsmen - face when attempting to come to terms with the end of their sporting careers.
The documentary opens up a conversation around the hidden perils athletes face as they take on their most testing challenge: life after sport.
Among those featured in After the Roar are Gareth Southgate, manager of the England men’s national football team, former coach of Australia’s rugby union side, Michael Cheika, champion jockey AP McCoy, boxer and Team GB Olympic medallist Anthony Ogogo, and England international cricketer Jonny Bairstow.
The former sports stars reveal previously unheard insight into how they coped with stepping out of the sporting arena one last time.
Speaking on Tuesday's Off The Ball, O'Driscoll discussed his emotional state in the immediate years following his retirement in 2014.
"I'm pretty level," O'Driscoll said. "I'm not necessarily euphoric with the ups, and I'm not overly down with the disappointments.
"But I think it manifests itself in just becoming a bit of a sloth. Not training in the first couple of years. I trained quite hard in the first six months after retirement, because the lads though I was going to be as big as as bus.
"I thought I'd better try and keep that away. Then I just kind of packed that in, ate badly and, not excessively, but I drank a little bit more than you would have been able to as a professional."
One of the most difficult things that a professional athlete can experience about retirement is finding a purpose to fill the hours in the day.
"I was busy at times, but other times I would just be plodding along, really struggling for a major purpose," O'Driscoll said.
"There was a 'eureka moment' around going on holidays with my family and the catalyst of seeing an album my mum put together of us, and I was disgusted of what I saw of myself, the ex-athlete.
"So, that really began as the major catalyst to get myself together physically and feel a bit better. The positive snowball effect of that is you eat better, you drink less.
"I think you are in better form naturally. With that time, it does allow you to get distance from the game and enjoy the smaller wins."
'I was never depressed... but I was sad'
In 21st century UK and Ireland the largest killer of men under the age of 50 is suicide, there’s a crisis in men’s mental health, and, for many ex-sportsmen, a stigma attached to showing vulnerability.
This film specifically looks at the gendered nature of men within society and their coping mechanisms with retirement from sport.
Some maintain a desire to be independent, rejecting the need for social support, whereas others seek out support networks where available.
For O'Driscoll, there were times where he felt the sadness, but did not experience any diagnosed depression.
"I was never depressed, I wasn't," O'Driscoll said. "But I was sad, I was definitely sad at times. I was never diagnosed with being depressed, but I don't know what the borderline between it and feeling sad is.
"We all have highs and low emotions, and people feel sadness, no more than the last few years. It has been really challenging.
"As much as I found it difficult, I never couldn't get out of bed. I would struggle for motivation to exercise and better myself, and that took a while to snap out of."
O'Driscoll was careful to not outwardly show his sadness publicly. Only his wife, actor Amy Huberman, as well as close family, would see the emotional lows the former Irish captain was going through.
However, even then, O'Driscoll tried to protect his family from that.
"You kind of put on a good front, don't you?" O'Driscoll said. "Except to Amy and your close family, even then you try and protect them from it.
"I'm sure my sister, who works with me, I'm sure she saw it. I know she did. Outside your comfort zone of home, you kind of put on a brave face.
"I'm conscious as well of this is jut my navigating a difficult path. There's obviously far more extreme versions of it in society.
"All you can talk about is the comparables between what people perceive your transition to look like, doing a great job and everything going great, to really finding it difficult at times.
"Even though I was doing some stuff that was putting food on the table and keeping me going, it really felt like I lacked the purpose that I'd had the previous 13 years."
After The Roar will premiere on BT Sport 1 on Friday 9 September at 10pm.
The film is a co-production between BT Sport Films and 3 Rock Productions, the production company led by O’Driscoll, BT Sport lead rugby presenter Craig Doyle and Keith Doyle, the author and sports journalist.
The executive producers are Sally Brown (BT Sport), plus Craig Doyle and Keith Doyle (3 Rock Productions), with Theo Lee-Ray, Isobel Williams and Mark Sharman the BT Sport Films producer and director team.
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