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Tipp shock on cards as GAA need to wise up on issue of concussion


Mayo’s Lee Keegan bumps into Dublin’s Alan Brogan (left) and Paul Flynn during the 2015 All-Ireland SFC semi-final in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo’s Lee Keegan bumps into Dublin’s Alan Brogan (left) and Paul Flynn during the 2015 All-Ireland SFC semi-final in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Mayo’s Lee Keegan bumps into Dublin’s Alan Brogan (left) and Paul Flynn during the 2015 All-Ireland SFC semi-final in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

I wouldn't say I was actively watching Match of the Day on Sunday night but the incident in the Arsenal v Wolves game, that left Raúl Jiménez with a fractured skull and David Luiz playing most of a half with blood seeping from his forehead definitely commanded the attention.

As did Alan Shearer's rant on the topic afterwards.

The crack of skull meeting skull was sickening.

But worse was Luiz continuing, with an increasingly blood-stained bandage.

Like Terry Butcher in 1989. Or Kevin Moran in 1978.

I thought we'd moved beyond this.

I'd assumed, clearly naively, that awareness around head injuries and concussion had escalated in recent years so that these decisions were taken out of the hands of players and managers.

I was only concussed once playing football.

It was in the second half of the drawn 2015 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.

We were playing into the Hill. I went up for a kick-out - not, admittedly my natural habitat - and I was caught hard in the face.

Really hard.

I remember the impact. I remember going down. I remember everything going dark.

And I half-remember coming around a few seconds later and declaring myself fine and healthy to continue.

But I was definitely knocked out. Even if it wasn't on the more severe end of the spectrum, I was concussed.

Here's where my tale of heroism in being injured on the field of battle fighting for my county comes to an end.

My assailant? Paul Flynn. Or to be more precise, his hip.

Paul suffered fairly frequent concussions because Paul being Paul, he catapulted himself around and into tackles with little regard for the safety of others or himself.

In this instance, I felt the full force of his hip bone and a fair chunk of his weight in my eye socket.

I was sent for an x-ray on my eye, because of the fear of damage in that area and the big, purple-y bruise that formed around it.

But I was never medically diagnosed as having suffered concussion.

Again, it wasn't the most extreme case. I was sore for a few days after but mainly from the impact and I didn't suffer vomiting or migraines many players report.

And I played the rest of that game.

The medical team came on and assessed me and I was sure at the time I was okay and I'm not sure if something similar happened now on a GAA pitch whether there would be any difference in how such an incidence would be treated.

Why is there no HIA? Is there anything wrong with the rugby model, where a temporary substitution is made while a player is properly assessed?

Joe Canning couldn't continue on Sunday after he collided with a team mate but concussions of that severity are rarer than the one that I had.

It's not like concussion is a new concept.

When 'Pillar' Caffrey was our manager, we went into Beaumont Hospital where we all underwent basic cognitive tests conducted by Professor Gerry McElvaney.

We answered questions by touch-screen and had our reactions tested and a score for each player was kept by our medial team so if anyone suffered a head injury, they could gauge in a similar environment whether some brain injury had been suffered.

That was 15 years ago.

And it was Pillar's own initiative. It wasn't a GAA thing.

There's just too much uncertainty on this issue, a potentially fatal one, to continue as we are now.

Granted, it's a delicate area. Concussions are hard to diagnose. But would it be so bad to legislate on the side of caution?

Unfortunately, the nature of elite sport means that if we put managers in a situation where they can take a risk on a player who might be concussed, some will.

We can criticise that all we like. We can scream about ethics and player safety. We can act shocked.

But it's going to happen. In every sport.

I wouldn't be holding out much hope for a shock on Saturday night.

Dublin are well past the point where being stale or undercooked and being caught is a possibility.

Though it probably doesn't feel it for everyone watching, we're just over two weeks out from the moment Sam Maguire is lifted and Dublin won't fall into any traps of complacency or self-regard.

They're too good a side, too experienced and too well managed.

With Brian Howard and Paul Mannion getting more game time, they've built up a strong squad with depth on the bench and Dessie Farrell has managed to freshen the team up with Seán Bugler, Paddy Small and Robbie McDaid.

It's funny though.

After a win like Cavan's in the Ulster final or Tipperary in Munster, it can be hard to get grounded again for your next match.

But because they've had to forego the usual celebrations, all they have is training and preparing.

Which is one of the reasons I think Tipp are going to cause a shock on Sunday.

They're a good team. A quick team. One built for Croke Park.

Colin O'Riordan is an exceptional player and in Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan, they have an inside pair most inter-county managers could only dream of.

And for all Mayo's talent and experience, they do tend to offer up chances. They're grizzled and they've come through most things over the past couple of years but ever since the semi-final line-up was confirmed, I've just had this sneaky suspicion that Tipp could do it.

Stranger things have happened. They've happened already this year.