Grand Final winner Anthony Mullally has revealed how he has overcome fear, anxiety and attachment to find a new purpose away from professional rugby league.
The 29-year-old former Leeds and Toronto forward has found his way to part-time rugby in France via months living out of a campervan on a cliff in Cornwall. He believes a series of lightbulb moments have produced a fresh philosophy and perspective on how we confront change.
Speaking exclusively on the new Transitions podcast series from mental health charity State of Mind Sport, the Ireland international reveals what prompted him to turn his back on top-level sport while at the peak of his powers, and how he has trained himself to loosen resistance and embrace change.
“If it starts to cause you pain and fear then you are probably too attached,” he says.
Crippling anxiety and misguided aspirations stifled his early rugby days. “Determination can turn into an anxiety and I definitely experienced that early in my career. When I got my chance I was just so nervous. We are all in our fight and flight response when we are playing but I was too far gone.
“I signed for Leeds because I wanted to be the big guy at the big club. I wanted to be in that Headingley scene, going out and seeing what girls think of me, and that was part of my drive which isn’t really ideal or a sustainable motivator.”
Mullally says some home truths from Rhinos coach Brian McDermott after a period of personal escape, helped align his mind and body to realise his career goals.
“I was in the Amazon, really hungover in the jungle and had real moments of clarity amongst this crushing anxiety.
“I decided to take accountability for my own actions and not blame someone else. Holding resentment is like you taking poison and hoping someone else gets sick.”
Leeds went on to win the the Grand Final that year with Mullally a key part of their success. But far from a platform to propel his playing career to new heights, the 2017 triumph instead triggered a surprising transitional shift in Mullally’s mindset, focus and career.
“I was so glad I’d done it. But I don’t even know where that Grand Final ring is now. My mum has got it somewhere. I just felt lost, my sense of purpose that I once had, was now completed, so what next? I needed to align with something else.”
The transition was to travel. Playing for experiences rather than achievements. First to Toronto, reuniting with McDermott but suffering financially and mentally when the pandemic threw the project into turmoil, leaving players out of jobs. That was the prompt for the Cornwall camper van escape, allowing Mullally, a proud vegan, to reconnect with nature.
“I’m on a cliff in a field. You come out first thing and the wind batters you in the face. On the stormy nights the van is shaking. You break away from that constant shelter and become more in the flow of the natural way of living. It gave me time to process things, break down stigmas and reconnect with nature. “
A period surfing, part-time labouring, and building a business hosting men’s mental health retreats led to another transition as Mullally packed up to move to Carcassonne where he now plays part-time on a low wage. There are offers to return to the English game, which occupy his thoughts and test his resolve. But for now he is resisting.
“Money is just a tool of exchange. People used to use sheep for money.
Money provides security but all you need is a net and anything above that is just luxury.
“Being in a van and not getting paid made me realise that I don’t need that much to get by. When you are on a decent salary, the fear of losing it is terrifying. When it gets taken from you then you have to be resourceful and still be happy.