Former Institute footballer Darren McCauley has admitted his decision to abstain from alcohol for 2018 came after it left him feeling 'lost in football and in life' when he was younger.
Last week the Gobnascale man celebrated reaching the halfway point of his New Year's resolution and the Coleraine winger posted on social media about his journey and the reasons behind it, which was seen and shared by thousands.
It came just after he arrived home from a month long visit to India where he took part in a 200-hour yoga teacher training course.
Now back in his native city and preparing for a trip to Serbia next Thursday with the Bannsiders, who face Spartak Subotica in the Europa League first round, McCauley reflected on a lifestyle choice that he believes has benefitted him in so many ways.
“There’s nothing wrong with alcohol in moderation, but it was a personal choice that I made, and I’m glad I did. I put up the Facebook post basically just to see if I could help someone else and give them a push of encouragement if they needed it,” McCauley told the Derry News. “It’s something that I know would have helped me in the past. In my late teens and early 20's, I was lost in football and in life and I realised that drink was the main culprit. As soon as I stopped it, things improved and I noticed trends."
The issue is one that McCauley feels isn't discussed enough locally, and he said the amount of potential football stars hampered by the problem is worrying.
“Alcohol is such a massive topic in Derry. There’s a drinking culture and I think that affects a lot of young footballers coming through. You hear boys sitting in bars and saying, ‘he was brilliant, but the drink got him’. It’s not just the boys playing football either. Men’s mental health in general and the impact of it isn’t talked about enough in the city.”
While he is only halfway towards his goal, McCauley shows no signs of letting up, and he agreed that seeing the benefits of his decision to defy the pressures of modern society and remove alcohol from his life has provided the perfect motivation.
“Winning the Irish Cup and having such a great season – it was all part of one of the happiest parts of my life and I suppose all those things just showed me that I didn’t need drink,” admitted the Gobnascale man. “I’ve seen so many benefits since I’ve stopped, and it’s given me more validation and reasons to keep going. There have been tough times, but I’ve just focused on the positives, on being patient and on having faith. You have those moments where something good happens and you get a buzz off it. It’s nothing major, just a subtle buzz, but it makes me feel proud. I’m looking forward to keeping going and hopefully my story can help other people that are in a similar position."

ON THE BALL
A former trainee at Celtic, McCauley joined Coleraine for a second spell from Institute in 2014 and has watched the club go from strength-to-strength since. Last season was one of the Bannsiders most successful ever – running Crusaders all the way in the league title race before beating Cliftonville 3-1 in the Irish Cup final, with the former Top of the Hill Celtic man scoring the opener. Currently joined in the Showgrounds by fellow former ‘Stute duo Stephen O’Donnell and Ciaron Harkin, as well as Newbuildings youngster Matthew Kirk, McCauley expressed his view that some local players are being overlooked by Derry City.
“There’s definitely a good spread of Derry players in Coleraine. A lot of us have been overlooked by Derry City, and Coleraine is the next big club in that regard. I’m proud to play for them, and I’m sure the other boys are too,” insisted the 27-year-old. “It’s definitely a motivation knowing that others have opinions that you’re not good enough for Derry City. We’re proving that we are at Coleraine, and we’ll try and continue to do that this season.”
Last season will prove the perfect confidence boost for McCauley, who scored 17 league goals, and his team-mates to try and go one better in the league race this time around, and the Waterside man said people are now starting to sit up and take notice of the Bannsiders.
“Last year was a massive success for the club and for myself personally. Winning the Irish Cup was obviously amazing, and then we came so close with the league as well,” McCauley recalled. “There’s something special happening at Coleraine and I think last season we started to see the benefits of what we have been building for a few years. There’s a lot of young players who are coming through and having an impact at senior level.
“The entirety of last season was a brilliant experience, and I think people started to take notice of Coleraine and to show the club more respect. They’re starting to realise that, at the minute, we are one of the best teams in the country, and we can challenge.”
Having been involved in such a long and intense campaign, McCauley and his team-mates were glad to get away from football for a few weeks, but the attacker admitted that he was excited to get back at it.
“When the season ends you do just want a rest and a break away from football, because you’re surrounded by it for ten or eleven months,” he explained. “You definitely need that mental and physical rest, but when you’re away from it you come back even hungrier to get into pre-season. It’s an exciting feeling just getting to see a football again and setting yourself new goals and targets for a new season.”
The first competitive game of the new campaign will see Coleraine take on Serbian outfit Spartak Subotica in the Europa League first round, with the Derry side travelling to the Subotica City Stadium next Thursday before welcoming their opponents to the Showgrounds on July 19. Oran Kearney’s team will be keen to learn from the experience of last season when they lost 7-0 in the first leg against Norway’s Haugesund before recording a scoreless draw in the return encounter.
“We didn’t do well in the first leg last year, but now we know what to expect a lot more in terms of playing European football,” insisted McCauley. “It’s a completely different thing to playing in the league, and our experience from Haugesund will stand us in good stead. Although it’s a different opponent, we know what we’re up against now in terms of the mental and physical requirements. We won’t be like a rabbit caught in headlights. We’ll be prepared, and we’ll enjoy it as well.”

TRIP OF A LIFETIME
The 27-year-old, who has been with Coleraine for four years, travelled to Dharamshala in India last month for an intense 200-hour yoga teacher training course.
With yoga playing a major role in his life, it’s an experience that he said was truly life-changing.
“Physically and mentally – it’s the toughest thing that I’ve ever done,” the Gobnascale man admitted. “You’re surrounded by people all the time and it’s difficult, but it was without doubt the best thing I have ever done. I pushed myself beyond anything I have ever experienced.
“I had so many thoughts beforehand about what people would say – would they think I was crazy? Would they say that’s not something a footballer should be doing? I just had to forget about that, and I’m so proud looking back.
He continued: “I would encourage others that have that voice of fear within them and that have experienced those same feelings not to listen to it and to go towards your positive thoughts. Having courage is so tough, but to anyone who is thinking of doing the same thing and is being held back – just go for it.”
With that teaching qualification under his belt, the Coleraine winger is now looking ahead to a new chapter in his life – both on and off the pitch.
“Yoga and meditation have been such a big help to me mentally in terms of dealing with depression and anxiety and becoming the person that I want to be. I really benefit from it because it takes away my limitations and it has expanded my awareness,” explained the 27-year-old. “Now I’m starting to say, ‘why don’t I deserve to be the best I can be as a footballer and as a person?’ Through meditation I’ve been able to open those doors and going forward I think my football and yoga will really tie in with one another. It’s easy to relate the two, so they work in conjunction. I’ve been offered a job as yoga teacher as well, so I’m excited for the future," he concluded.
Anyone interested in receiving football or yoga sessions from Darren can contact him on Facebook at ‘Darren McCauley Fitness’ or on Instagram at ‘ayogifootballer’.

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