Tomás Ó Sé: My jaw was broken. I was concussed. I was crying...I still would have trained with Kerry the following night if it was on
Published 02/02/2016 | 02:30
For a snapshot of the place where concussion has occupied in GAA history it's worth recalling a story from the 1980 All-Ireland football final that my good friend Dr Con Murphy once told me.
Dr Con, a great friend to everyone in the game and arguably the most recognisable medic after decades of service to countless Cork teams, found himself 'behind enemy lines' that day helping out with Kerry preparations for Roscommon.
At half-time Con encountered Mike Sheehy, who had scored Kerry's only goal on the day.
"Nice goal, Mikey, keep it up," said Con.
"Goal?" replied Mikey, "what goal?"
Concerned, Con went out to Mick Dwyer and advised that he should be taken off on the basis that he couldn't even recall his own goal.
"Not to worry," said Dwyer. "We'll show it to him tomorrow."
And with that Mikey went back out into battle and finished the match as Kerry completed three-in a row.
That attitude pretty much summed up how we have all felt about bangs to the head in our careers. I must have been concussed five or six times. On at least three occasions I was thoroughly sickened by it.
In one schools match I was struck so heavily with a right hook that, with my mouth open, my lower jaw slammed up into the roof of my mouth and cracked a tooth.
When I got off the bus in Dingle, the teacher handed me the tooth, asked me 'how was the head'. I said 'grand' and off I went. It was p*ssing rain.
I had walked most of a journey of a few miles out home before it dawned on me that I should have rung the parents for a lift. I just wasn't with it.
I arrived home with desperate headache, got sick twice and put down an uncomfortable night.
The worst blow I ever took was in a club match against Listowel when I had my jaw broken with a whack from behind that left me in a heap on the ground. Again concussion developed.
I had no memory of walking around the pitch, no memory of getting into the dug-out. Apparently I got fierce emotional and even cried as I spoke gibberish, which generated great mirth from the wise-guys.
That night, as I lay in hospital, I was getting texts from them telling me what a night they were having out around town without me. We laughed. A bang on the head was nothing to get too worked up about.
Had there been a training session with Kerry the following day I wouldn't have thought twice about heading down to it.
With no wound, with no obvious disability like a hamstring or a knee injury, you just got on with it.
We played a League match up in Leitrim one year and my brother Marc, a substitute that day, was behind the goals retrieving balls when someone boomed an O'Neill's that came down with snow on it and caught him on the crown of the head.
On the way home he admitted not being able to recall being in the dug-out watching parts of the game. Again, we found humour in it, ignorant to the dangers of even something as simple as that.
That was then, though - this is now. And the culture is changing.
Thus, I'd have to commend Mayo for their swift admission on Sunday evening that they had made a mistake by leaving Lee Keegan on the field.
I was at the game in Pairc Ui Rinn and it was quite a collision between Lee and Eoin Cadogan. In real time it didn't appear like a clash of heads but when they stayed down for a period of time people around began to speak of concussion.
It was obvious to me that Keegan made a strong case to stay on himself and that the medics were keen for him to come off.
Players generally win out in these situations with their assurances that they are fine. And clearly, at that moment, the judgement was that he was okay to press on before his condition worsened.
By putting their hand up Mayo have done more for awareness of an issue that is becoming more and more embedded in the psyche of sport, not just Gaelic games.
Even when I wrapped up playing inter-county two-and-a-half years ago it hadn't caught hold.
That sense of bravado has always been prevalent. Unless damage is visible you persevered. Players will always want to continue playing.
But what has been happening in rugby with George North and Johnny Sexton is really forcing the issue home to everyone.
The thing is, the majority of games go ahead without any doctor on the sideline.
Many of those involved with teams don't have the knowledge required.
And concussion is so difficult to gauge. Even doctors can't say they fully have a handle on it.
Mayo's admission, in light of what happened, was brave. They could have kicked for touch, and tried to bury it but they stepped up.
Cork took off Cadogan when it appeared that he too had concussion symptoms.
The challenge for team management and doctors now will be to take big players out of games that really matter, an All-Ireland semi-final or final.