Tuesday 20 February 2018

Tackling concussion head on

McGurn feels Croker is taking right steps as increased physicality takes toll

Kilkenny's Richie Power is stretchered off after suffering concussion in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final against Cork this year; doctors have warned of the dangers of concussion
Kilkenny's Richie Power is stretchered off after suffering concussion in the All-Ireland SHC quarter-final against Cork this year; doctors have warned of the dangers of concussion
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

CONCUSSIONS and head injuries are an inevitable part of players bulking up, but the GAA is handling them properly and much better than rugby union, according to one of the country's top fitness experts.

Kilkenny's Richie Power was the latest inter-county player to be stretchered off with concussion in Sunday's All-Ireland SHC quarter-final against Cork.

One of last weekend's All-Ireland minor hurling quarter-finals was abandoned after a teenage player received a bad head injury.

And Donegal manager Jim McGuinness underlined the growing physicality in the game, criticising the injuries that All Star Mark McHugh suffered in the Ulster final and the heavy hits his players are shipping.

"We can live with physicality," McGuinness said. "But there is a difference between physicality and busted ear-drums, concussions and serious leg injuries."


Yet Mike McGurn, who has not only worked in professional rugby but has been the strength and conditioning coach for the GAA's International Rules team and is currently working with the Louth senior footballers, believes McHugh was just "particularly unfortunate.

"I did a session with Monaghan a few years ago. Stephen Gollogly, who clashed with Mark McHugh, is, relatively speaking, a slip of a man," he said.

"I know Mark suffered a perforated ear-drum and a five-centimetre tear to his quad, but it looked like an accidental clash to me and I think he was just very unfortunate.

"Head injuries and things like concussion have to do with G-forces. In rugby league they estimate the G-forces to be 13.5Gs and I'd say in gaelic they are close to 11Gs now. The increase in strength and conditioning means GAA players are now three to four kilos heavier than they would have been five or six years ago," he explained.

"When you have more powerful bodies clashing then you will, inevitably, have more accidental concussions. But the good thing is that the GAA is dealing with them correctly. They are getting players off the pitch immediately; ideally, badly concussed players shouldn't play for two to three weeks."

Yet, just a year ago, some frightening statistics emerged from a survey of senior inter-county GAA players.

Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABI), who produced the research in conjunction with the Gaelic Players Association, reiterated their warnings about the effects of head traumas and the need to ensure that players showing any signs of concussion do not re-enter a game.

ABI Ireland have a campaign called 'Not Always A Knockout' to educate players and coaches about the dangers of mismanaging head injuries and Dublin footballers Michael Darragh Macauley and Rory O'Carroll are ambassadors for them.

Their research revealed that 54pc of 150 inter-county players reported having endured a concussion during games and 44pc of those admitted to having sustained one between two to five times.

What was most worrying was that, not only did half of the survey reveal they'd been concussed but 58pc of those admitted to continuing to play on and 42pc admitted that, post-collision, they didn't remember the rest of the match.

The international rugby board's recommended 'five-minute rule' (where a player with a head injury resumes action within five minutes if his symptoms clear) came in for criticism when Australia's George Smith resumed play in the third Lions Test after a horrifying clash of heads.

McGurn said that the GAA appears to react much more appropriately by immediately taking off concussed players and ABI Ireland reiterated that re-entering the field of play will exacerbate the long-term effects of their injury.

"It's not about getting another hit to the head, just receiving something like a heavy shoulder substantially increases the effects of a concussion," said ABI Ireland spokeswoman Karen O'Boyle.

"Players need to get off the pitch immediately and take proper time to recover. Symptoms may not appear immediately, and players often don't connect their symptoms to concussion. But symptoms can be anything from losing consciousness or being dazed or confused to mood changes and nausea and they can all occur long after a game has finished."

American football is currently immersed in a massive debate over head injuries. Almost 4000 retired players have filed a class action against the NFL as a result of long-term brain damage caused by repeat concussions.

Chris Nowinski, the leading campaigner on head traumas in US sport who has produced a documentary called 'Head Games', will be the guest speaker at a conference on concussion at Dublin's Aviva Stadium this December.

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