Mental Health

Through Trying Times: The Veteran Using Rugby To Aid Mental Health

Craig Monaghan runs a project with professional rugby club Sale Sharks to combat veterans' mental health issues.

Craig Monaghan perforated both his eardrums while serving with 2 RIFLES in Afghanistan in 2009.

With only 26% of his hearing left, he was also diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and was medically discharged from the Army in 2013.

He has come through some dark times, but now plays for England Deaf Rugby Union as well as working for Sale Sharks Forces, a programme for veterans just like himself.

Craig Monaghan lifting weights.

Sports recovery can take many forms, and for the dedicated few, that means reaching an elite level.

So when Mr Monaghan got picked to play rugby for the England deaf team in 2016, he could easily have stopped there.

But he did not: "I realised that I can't be a good athlete doing the one training session a day and going out every night eating food.

"Because of the card I was dealt in Afghanistan, I understand completely differently now that I need to be slightly different."

"I need to be that little bit more tailored, I need to be that little bit more patient and things are not going to come as quickly as it probably would for a person who is able-bodied."

Craig Monaghan lifting weights.
Sports recovery can take many forms, and for the dedicated few, that means reaching an elite level.

"I completely respect that journey that they're on but my journey is significantly different, and learning that the hard way through the England set-up into now was something that was a tough pill to swallow that I knew I am not going to bounce out on to a pitch and be the best 9 or full-back.

"I actually needed some sort of tailoring, and I had to grow as a person and now I have to make sure I'm out of bed early and getting that extra session in.

"Just tailoring, watching sport, understanding sport - not just on the rugby side but all sports I'm involved in."

Craig Monaghan England team photo.
Mr Monaghan now plays for England Deaf Rugby Union.

Becoming a better athlete was all part of the realisation that his journey was far from over, and now, through an initiative at Sale Rugby, he is encouraging other veterans to do the same.

"What veterans in the north-west needed, wasn't being told: 'this is how you write a CV, this is how you do this'.

"What they needed was the lad in sport, the lad who'd lived the journey. I don't mean it in a sort of arrogant way.

"They needed that lad who'd gone through the hard times and that sort of mental health journey, that sort of wounded journey and not come out the other end, but had learnt ways to deal with it."

Craig Monaghan kicking still.
The Sporting Excellence Soldiering On Award recognises those who have overcome challenges and demonstrated outstanding achievements in sport.

"The lads will joke all the time and say I get paid to drink coffee. But in theory, we built a community off the back of using the Sharks brand, using me and the Forces community.

"Simple things like a 7am dog-walk in the park, where we'll just grab a coffee and walk around the park with our dogs.

"You don't even need a dog to come - people will just come and chat."

It is this kind of approach that means that Sharks Forces is ever-evolving and Mr Monaghan is a massive part of their development, making sure that every person is treated as an individual.

The Sporting Excellence Soldiering On Award recognises those who have overcome challenges and demonstrated outstanding achievements in sport.

Mr Monaghan's friends say he has done that on and off the field.

The project has been fully embraced by everyone at Sale and Mr Monaghan now regularly runs workshops with former player Jack Leech.

The feedback they have had is that it inspires people to kick on with their mental health. 

By telling their own stories, the message is getting through.