Exploring identity and mental health in the GAA

Actor Timmy Creed is back on his old GAA stomping ground this week — this time with a play which he wrote with his sports friends in mind, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Exploring identity and mental health in the GAA
Timmy Creed in 'Spliced.

THE GAA and the theatre are unlikely bedfellows, but for Bishopstown GAA Club member, Timmy Creed, writing and acting taps into his creativity while football and hurling gives him a sense of community. When he wrote his play, Spliced, he had his GAA friends in mind.

Spliced, a multi-disciplinary piece dealing with the GAA and mental health, directed by Gina Moxley and performed by Timmy, will be staged at the Cork Midsummer Festival from June 20 to 24 — in Bishopstown GAA Club of all places. But it was Timmy’s stomping ground from the age of six so it’s an appropriate venue.

Timmy, aed 31, from the Mardyke, describes himself as a full time actor and writer who is training to be a yoga teacher.

“To develop as a yoga practitioner, the teacher told us we need three things; commitment, discipline and motivation,” says a fit-looking Timmy.

“They’re the same kind of things you hear GAA managers telling players they should have.”

He says the exploration of the inner self “and the quietening down of the self is what draws me to yoga. I enjoy the physicality of it as well. It’s very exciting, having come from a physical background.”

As a child, Timmy was “mad for the ball”. He adds: “So my father took me to Bishopstown GAA Club. I have three older brothers (including the theatre and opera director, Tom Creed) and sisters. None of them really played.

“I used to go to the club every Saturday morning. That’s where I found my tribe and it marked me as unique from the rest of my family.”

Around the age of 15, Timmy says his game improved. Being in the GAA was good for his self-esteem.

“But there’s an element that when you’re away from it, you don’t feel supported. It’s a pack mentality.”

One of Timmy’s greatest sporting achievements was winning a Munster medal for his school, Colaiste Spioraid Naoimh, playing against the senior team from St Brendan’s School in Kerry.

At the age of 22, having graduated with a civil engineering degree from UCC, he fell into acting.

“I was on the dole having finished college. There was an open casting call for an Irish film called My Brothers, directed by Paul Fraser. My sister said I needed to go for it. I had to do five auditions. I got the lead role.

Timmy Creed in 'Spliced.
Timmy Creed in 'Spliced.

“It was a whirlwind experience. The indie feature premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York in 2010. I had this mad experience in New York. There were red carpets, press conferences and parties full of celebs. I was there with my family and friends. My eyes were opened to this other world. I knew it existed through the media but I didn’t think it was something you could pursue.”

At the time, Timmy was based in Canada where he was going to pursue engineering.

“After New York, I went back to Canada. What was mulling in my head was whether I could have a career in something like acting. The engineering never got off the ground.”

When he returned to Ireland, Timmy picked up bits and pieces of acting work.

“Then I got a scholarship to the Oxford School of Drama. I realised I needed to take this seriously. I stopped playing GAA to go to Oxford. I missed the connections and the serotonin you get from playing. You feel like a warrior. When you’re living the more individual solo life, you don’t get that element.”

Timmy picked up work after his “challenging” ten month course in the Oxford School of Drama.

“I still have an aspiration to go to London which is the home of theatre in the world. But I’m able to make my own work here.”

Describing Spliced as autobiographical, Timmy says that when he tried to come up with something to write about, “surprise, surprise, all I could think of was the GAA club because that’s who I am really, at the core, whether I like it or not.”

But he is acutely aware of the differences between the artistic world and the sporting world: “With the GAA, it’s quite masculine, community-based and strength-based whereas it’s the opposite to become an actor. In drama school, you’re asked to be sensitive, to go inside yourself and pull out things you didn’t know were there. In the GAA, our vulnerabilities aren’t allowed to rise to the surface. I wanted to write something that highlights sensitivity.”

The GAA, says Timmy, “is a world where self-expression isn’t really championed. You kind of bottle things up and keep things man-to-man, very much on a surface level.”

When Spliced was performed at the Dublin Fringe Festival last year, some of Timmy’s close GAA friends came to see it.

“I had been thinking of them the whole time I was writing it. It’s funny. Theatre people have an eloquent way of responding to a play whereas the lads didn’t give me mad feedback. Them just being there was enough for me.”

Timmy wonders “if the GAA is missing something. Could it be an opportunity to have a support group and a place where men can feel vulnerable and weak and express themselves at a really deep level — and not to be slagged for that?”

Timmy went back playing games last year and “absolutely loved it. I had parked it for a while but I realise I’m still a GAA man.”

Spliced comprises a three-part monologue with input from visual artist, David Mathúna and composer, Chris Somers.

“It shines a light on the fragility of sportsmen behind the mask and begins a conversation about identity and mental health in the GAA.”

For more see www.corkmidsummer.com.

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