'Society puts pressure on you' – former GAA star Aidan Fogarty on why his wedding never went ahead

All-Ireland medal winner Aidan Fogarty has opened up for the first time about the calling off of his wedding only a month before he and his teenage sweetheart were due to walk down the aisle.

Speaking about what he called “a very lonely and heart-breaking time”, he said the experience has made him stronger but has also made him see the pressure Irish society places on young people to meet life’s traditional milestones.

Explaining how the pair dated for over a decade when the questions began, he said: “I think, looking back, we got engaged because of the pressure from society really.”

He added: “I think society puts a lot of pressure on you to get married, have a kid and a house by the age of 30 or 32, and if you are not in that scenario you are nearly ‘failing’ at life, which is absolute rubbish,” he said.

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“I am talking now as if I am a guru,” he said, “but I have had the experience.”

The couple were living together when they called the wedding off.

“Everything was booked. We were at home in Johnstown and we had been very ‘off’ with each other and the two of us sat down and told each other we weren’t happy. We had a big conversation and we came to the agreement that we had grown apart and made the decision to call it off.”

Of the immediate aftermath he said: “I told my sister first… I am getting emotional,” he continued, “… and she started crying because she was best friends with [my former fiancee] as well. She just couldn’t believe it. The two of us just said nothing and cried.”

On the reasons behind the decision, Fogarty said he and his ex-fiancee felt they were becoming more like friends.

Looking back now he says, society often expects people to tick off ‘boxes’ as life goes on. On the narrative they would hear broaching their 30s, he says “from a female perspective” it’s “Mary is after getting engaged, Sheila is after getting engaged, there is Maura having a baby…” while he added “Even the lads [would joke] ‘have you fallen over on one knee yet?'”

To other young people feeling similar pressure to choose ‘the one’ he says: “The most important thing is to be happy in yourself, to have confidence in yourself and to know exactly what you want. If it takes 10, 20 or 30 years – it doesn’t matter. I was very immature, I didn’t know what I wanted – all I wanted to do was hurl and enjoy myself and I did enjoy myself and I would have no regrets. If I was back there again I would do the exact same thing but, what I would do differently, is that I would work on myself and develop myself a lot more.”

After the break-up he was lonely. “I started going to coffee shops and doing a lot of things on my own and that was so difficult because I was in a relationship for 14 years and played hurling with 30 guys for years and everything was done with someone.”

Now he has learned to find peace in his own company. “If you can sit down and be happy on your own then you are doing something right. Those kind of people are the strongest people out there because they are the ones who don’t get into a relationship just for the sake of it.”

He built his own confidence by chance after meeting a local priest, Brother Damien Brennan, with the view of improving as a hurler.

“I went to him thinking he was going to run me for 50 laps and give me 200 push ups a day – and it was that as well – but it turned out to be more of a psychological help and he became my mentor.

“He took me at face value, he didn’t judge me, I could tell him anything and he accepted me for who I was and that was the best starting point for me because I was always looking over my shoulder- looking for approval.”

On the day when his mentor died last September, Fogarty had the call to appear on Dancing With The Stars. “I am not a religious man but I feel it was no coincidence that they rang that day. He was always challenging me and telling me to take risks and to get myself out there.”

Without Brother Brennan, he wouldn’t have eight All-Ireland medals. “I wouldn’t have retired in 2010, I wouldn’t be on DWTS now, doing radio programmes or talking to you today. He was my best friend as well as my mentor – an incredibly powerful man.”

‘Dancing With The Stars’ is on tonight at 6.30pm on RTE One

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