Saturday 16 November 2019

Better scheduling would reduce frequency of injuries

Injury is inevitable in sport but players are still doing too much, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm Cooper, Dr. Crokes, after receiving an injury, he was subsequently taken off
Colm Cooper, Dr. Crokes, after receiving an injury, he was subsequently taken off
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Over the last few weeks, much has been written and spoken about the dreaded cruciate injury, the bane of the modern footballer.

It doesn't just mean a year out of a playing career, but it is far from the glamour of Croke Park or any other park that the long hours of rehabilitation must be put in. It is the ultimate solo run, nobody can help and without the necessary dedication, the time out of playing is longer or there may be no return at all.

Muhammad Ali could have been talking about cruciate victims when he said: "The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights."

Colm O'Neill is back dancing under the lights, while far away Colm Cooper, Eamonn Wallace and Ciarán Kilkenny all have to fight a private battle. I know all about it as I did the same damage when I was 19, long before modern techniques of repair were available.

Three months in plaster back then meant total muscle wastage and it is a hard job getting that leg muscle back. Now at least the rehab process starts immediately and there is no such muscle damage. Many others before me just gave up, nobody knew exactly what was wrong, except that 'the knee was at him'. There is a price to be paid later in life too, but it was worth it all to dance under the lights.

Of course there are plenty of club players in a similar situation, but it is the high-profile players who have focused attention on this injury. There is a lot of research needed before definitive statements can be made about cruciate damage frequency in football compared to other sports where there is a similar range of movements. Perhaps the GAA should be funding such research for a third-level student,there should be plenty of data available from soccer and Australian rules especially.

In these games, the same sort of landing and twisting movements are experienced; in American football and rugby, the injury may be more associated with contact as happened in the case of the Gooch.

This particular type of injury has not been ignored in other sports. Some have taken a look at the type of boots worn, some soccer clubs ban blades and, while I am certainly no expert, I would agree that the rotating movement needed by a footballer means it seems more likely to happen with blades which stick in the ground. This is especially true on all-weather pitches. The old-fashioned round stud is still the best and probably the safest.

There have been new warm-up routines devised which are beneficial to the whole body, but can do nothing to prevent or explain a cruciate injury which takes place well into a game. Strengthening the muscles around the knee also helps, but that was hardly a factor in the cases of Kilkenny or Wallace and seems irrelevant to the manner in which Gooch sustained his injury.

When a player is caught with all his weight on one leg and another player comes in to attempt a block at full force, then something has to give. It highlights a design flaw in the human body and the knee is the weakest point. Then again, the man above was hardly building prototypes in Adam and Eve with a view to playing Gaelic football.

Some sports get their players to practise landing techniques. In other words, to land on both feet simultaneously. This is again fine in theory, but a footballer, more often than not, after making a high catch is coming down off balance and trying to get the landing gear sorted is not that easy.

Action shots generally show a one-leg landing and the slightest twist then can cause a major problem. I got over this by never jumping off the ground again. If you go up on your toes and stop your marker jumping – legally of course – then the ball will always come down.

Yet there should always be a conspiracy theory to explain everything. Mine is hardly outlandish and I go back to a topic I have written about several times before. Young players are playing far too much and because of that they are much more liable to injury. There is no proper rest. The body needs time to recover. Almost all of our top young stars have played continuously since before Christmas, with third level, county 21s and seniors.

Even if they never got cruciate injuries or any other injury, they are still playing and training far too much and who is to say that their cruciate injuries are not as a result of an accumulation of minor damage which never gets a chance to repair? Even the caveman put his head down on a stone and rested for as long as he could after a day's hunting.

Along with the best medical research, the GAA itself can do most to solve the injury crisis with young players. It all goes back to the games schedule. When will someone tackle the issue?

On Wednesday week, Meath and Dublin meet in the Leinster under 21 final. Meath wanted to toss for Navan or Parnell Park. It appears Dublin are reluctant and the match is fixed for Portlaoise.

Did you ever hear such nonsense? If the match was played at either home venue there would be a very good crowd and a great atmosphere. Playing in Portlaoise will more than halve the attendance. The latest development is that Meath have said they will play in Parnell Park but Dublin have refused that offer.

It is about time that the Leinster Council take control, move the fixture to Parnell Park and put an end to such a farce. Why Dublin want to put everyone to so much trouble rather than playing on their home patch is not just hard to understand, it is impossible. It is not the pitch or the lights that wins games.

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