Thursday 29 September 2016

Martin Breheny: Concussion threat is overblown - What of the broader injury crisis?

Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30

Lee Keegan is assisted off the pitch by Dr Sean Moffatt after picking up an injury. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Lee Keegan is assisted off the pitch by Dr Sean Moffatt after picking up an injury. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

So much has been spoken, written and generally waffled about the Lee Keegan concussion incident that you might think a player taking a knock to the head was a new and deeply sinister development.

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Of course it's not. It has been happening in all field sports for centuries but only in relatively recent times has much attention been given to the medical aspects.

The surge in brain-associated injuries and illness in American football brought it to worldwide prominence; rugby in the professional era has also come under increasing scrutiny amid fears that the changed nature of the game carries dangerous risks.

Naturally, other sports are checking their houses too, since a blow to the head doesn't differentiate between amateur or professional, international or local.

Supervision

Like others, the GAA has concussion procedures, overseen by team doctors. Which is all very fine at top level but how many thousands of club games are played annually without official medical supervision?

Lee Keegan's injury attracted huge attention but there are actually other medical matters that need closer examination than the relatively rare concussion cases (SPORTSFILE)
Lee Keegan's injury attracted huge attention but there are actually other medical matters that need closer examination than the relatively rare concussion cases (SPORTSFILE)

The same applies to other codes for the very good reason that if the presence of a doctor were required for every game at all levels, most field sports could not function. Like it or not, that's the reality.

Keegan's collision with Eoin Cadogan came in one of the three highest-profile GAA games last Sunday but could just as easily have happened in a junior 'C' club tie, with no doctor on sideline call. What then? Club players get hurt too.

Some medical experts, who weren't within 100 miles of Páirc Uí Rinn, have had their say on the Keegan affair, which is surprising, since you might have thought they wouldn't be prepared to diagnose at such long range.

The irony is that there would have been no fuss if Mayo hadn't issued a statement shortly after the game, conceding that "Lee should have been withdrawn as a precaution a number of minutes earlier when the collision occurred".

It was a brave move. Can you recall any medical teams in rugby, a sport that's under far more pressure on concussion than football or hurling, admitting that a player was left on the pitch too long after sustaining a head injury? No, me neither.

And please, let there be no arguments that rugby players are withdrawn immediately after taking a heavy bang to the head.

If you believe that, Google "George North knocked out twice" and watch what happened in last year's Wales-England Six-Nations game.

I'm in no way trying to minimise the dangers of a player continuing after taking a blow to the head but it needs to be kept in perspective.

American football and rugby, populated by huge men using a biff-bang-wallop approach, have real challenges because of the nature of the games but other field sports aren't in anything like the same danger zone.

That includes football and hurling, even if you might assume since last Sunday that concussion was a serious threat to the games.

It's not. In any event, Mayo's admission that they got it wrong will have acted as the best example imaginable when it comes to team doctors/managers acting quickly in future.

The need to intervene immediately has been highlighted in a manner that no amount of seminars/information briefings could possibly achieve.

That it came on the first day of the Allianz League season adds to the impact.

Keegan's experience attracted attention but there are actually other medical matters that need closer examination than the relatively rare concussion cases.

Lengthy

Why were so many teams seriously depleted due to injury on the first league weekend? It's not as if the January tournaments had such a high casualty rate, yet most counties report a lengthy list of unavailable players,

Why so? Depending on their exit point from the championship, counties completed their season between June 20 and September 20 last, yet dozens of players are crocked now.

Somehow, I doubt if the injury epidemic was caused by club activity either. Could it be down to training regimes, some of which were, no doubt, conducted at a time when players were supposed to be resting?

A detailed audit of the injuries would be very informative. The findings might not have quite the same shock/horror impact as a groggy Keegan being helped off the pitch last Sunday but, in the long run, it's a more serious issue if the wider injury count continues to rise.

Concussion cases are rare and will become rarer still as vigilance levels rise. Sadly, that's not the case with the plethora of various other injuries, yet they don't get anything like the same attention.

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