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Sunday 16 June 2019

'Wildness' in GAA is leading to greater risk of concussion, says doctor

Conference: Trauma expert Dr Ann McKenna issued warning. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Conference: Trauma expert Dr Ann McKenna issued warning. Picture: Gerard McCarthy
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

A “wildness” and “lack of discipline” in the GAA is presenting an additional risk of concussion compared to other sports such as rugby and American football, a leading sports trauma expert has said.

Dr Ann McKenna – of the Bon Secours Health System in Cork – has said that concussion is now a massive problem in Ireland.

Dr McKenna was at a ‘Pitch Side Emergency’ conference in Pairc Ui Chaoimh and said that while a culture of safety is emerging in sports, rugby, American Football and the GAA are still the top three offenders when it comes to concussion in sport.

Dr McKenna said that “very few episodes of concussion are actually malicious” but said a lack of discipline in the GAA leads to issues of concussion.

“A lot of them are purely accidental and not malicious, which I do think is an improvement,” Dr McKenna said.

“But if you compare all sports, a survey of referees and umpires shows that the highest rates of assaults was in GAA – football and hurling. I think that speaks to the lack of discipline I observe in GAA that isn’t there in rugby, for example.

“While GAA has less energy compared to Rugby or American Football, there is less discipline.

“There is more wildness of behaviour. That’s why you get more accidents and more incidents of concussion than you would expect compared to the other two sports,” she added.

Dr McKenna said that in her colleague’s survey on match officials he found the highest number of assaults in on referees in ball sports were in the GAA.

“It speaks volumes for the culture and lack of discipline in the GAA,” she said.

Asked by what needed to be undertaken to address the issue, Dr McKenna said the GAA needs to implement a zero-tolerance approach to assaults during play.

“I’d like there to be a primary prevention policy in terms of the GAA and referees taking a stand that lack of discipline in the game is not going to be tolerated,” she said adding that concussion can be life-changing.

“Most of these aren’t malicious, it can be as simple as a clash of heads, but some of them are malicious and there needs to be a zero tolerance against a lack of discipline and maliciousness on the field,” she added.

Dr McKenna said the biggest issue for concussion detection in Ireland is the lack of people coming forward for treatment.

Only a fraction of Irish people present with concussion compared to other countries.

The expert said that there is a pressure on sports people in Ireland to continue playing and therefore deciding against getting treatment for the head injury

“International experience is that the number of people with concussion is, on average, one in 165. Yet, in Ireland, only one in 2,000 people attend for treatment. That, for me, is the biggest cause of concern,” she said.

“It would appear that because of pressure on young people and athletes to continue playing, there is a tendency not to present for treatment if they feel they have concussion.”

Dr McKenna added that a person doesn’t have to be knocked out in order to be concussed.

“If you don’t take appropriate time off and sustain a second concussion, you will have a higher burden of symptomology and a prolonged length of recovery,” she said.

“We do know that on average most patients will recover in 10 to 14 days.  The thing is most people think you have to be knocked out but you don’t have to be for concussion.

“I’m not saying people with concussion are in trouble; I’m saying people with concussion need to be sensible and not to return until all symptoms are gone.”

Irish Independent

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