Sport GAA

Wednesday 22 November 2017

GAA's new concussion proposals could help save lives

Aidan O'Shea has spoken about the dangers of concussion
Aidan O'Shea has spoken about the dangers of concussion

Damian Lawlor

THE Acquired Brain Injury Ireland organisation says the GAA's plans to introduce new procedures for players with suspected concussion could help save lives on the field of play.

Traditionally, concussion and head injuries have not been hugely problematic for the Association. Last winter Croke Park produced a report into the area which showed that less than one per cent of all inter-county injuries were classified as concussion (0.8 per cent in football, and 0.5 per cent in hurling).

However, in a survey conducted by the ABI and Gaelic Players' Association in 2012, the results were more worrying, as 54 per cent of those surveyed stated they had been concussed in games, 44 per cent of those were concussed more than once and 58 per cent continued to play with concussion. Most alarmingly, 42 per cent of those who played on had no memory of the rest of the game the incident occurred in.

Ahead of the GAA's Annual Congress in Cavan at the end of this month, Tyrone, Fermanagh and the North American Board have now moved to draft a proposal requiring referees to instruct a player who takes a serious blow to the head to leave the pitch immediately for medical attention.

The player would not be allowed to return unless tests for concussion proved negative. Meanwhile, a replacement would be allowed while the player is being treated and assessed, which is currently the case for blood injuries. The motion is likely to be met with approval at Congress and immediately implemented. If that is the case, it will place increased responsibility on match referees.

"The referee will be a very important person in this area if the rule gets through Congress," said ABI communications executive Karen O'Boyle. "They will be the closest person to the player and they need to be able to assess what's happening and get the player off pitch. There will need to be a certain level of concussion education for referees but that will give them the tools they need to assess players and send them for treatment. It will be an extra task, no doubt, but it won't be a huge task."

O'Boyle says the importance of how Congress delegates vote should not be underestimated.

"Players have to live a full life outside of sport," she said. "With something like a knee injury you can live with that into your 60s and 70s but a brain injury is a whole different ball game.

"So this is a very innovative move. A player should play no part in making the decision whether to stay on or go off. If they have taken a hit to head, their decision-making is impaired and it shouldn't matter a monkeys that the player wants to stay on. They are just not in a fit state to make right decisions within a playing capacity."

O'Boyle recently contributed to an Oireachtas Committee's investigation into concussion and other injuries sustained in sport and says she can see a steady change in attitude from sporting bodies on this issue.

"People need to realise that concussion symptoms might not occur for 24 hours and therefore players have to be monitored. Just 10 per cent of concussions in sport are from a knockout. The other 90 per cent of concussions can be sustained in any type of blow.

"Preventing second impact syndrome is also crucial. This happens when a player is left on the field after a heavy hit and a second concussion occurs before the first properly heals. This can result in rapid and severe swelling in the brain. The reality is that another knock or brain injury could leave them dead. The GAA are obviously looking to be proactive in this area and that can only help awareness.

"I find it interesting that players are so accepting of ligament injuries, for example. If they get one they know they're out for nine months and that's the way it is. However, they try to play on with concussion.

"Thankfully, we are seeing slow changes. Aidan O'Shea has spoken out about the dangers, Johnny Sexton has been out for 12 weeks - that would never have happened before. If Congress sends this motion through, it will only increase awareness even more."

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