Saturday 15 December 2018

'Any time there is medication involved everyone needs to be very, very cautious' - Leo Cullen

Cullen: Any time medication is involved, everyone needs to be very cautious. Photo: Sportsfile
Cullen: Any time medication is involved, everyone needs to be very cautious. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

For some, Brian O'Driscoll's revelations about his use of prescribed painkillers was the opening of Pandora's box, while for others, it is nothing more than expected.

People take painkillers in everyday walks of life, so on one hand should it really come as that much of a shock that rugby players do so too in what is an increasingly combative sport? There is, however, a fine line between taking medication and abusing or becoming overly reliant on it.

In many ways, the bigger question at play here is: should it continue to be legal for players to take painkillers to play at full capacity?

O'Driscoll was brave enough to offer an insight into the culture of the dressing-rooms he was in, and while it is easier to come out and be so brutally honest now that he has retired, it would be foolish to think that it still doesn't go on in today's game.

After all, it is only four years since the former Ireland captain hung up his boots and even though medical science continues to advance at a rapid rate, the taking of prescribed painkillers still exists.

In October 2016, speaking to this newspaper, Donncha O'Callaghan aired his concerns while the former Munster and Ireland second-row was still playing professional rugby in England with Worcester.

Leo Cullen was the latest to offer his informed take on the matter, and it was interesting to hear his views, because he played alongside O'Driscoll and O'Callaghan, but the former lock now has the shoe on the other foot as a coach.

"I was never a big fan, and even to this day, I'm not a big fan of taking medication," Cullen began.

"That's not to say I haven't taken an anti-inflammatory. Like, rugby as a game, it's a physical, contact sport. With that comes inflammation. What would you take to get rid of inflammation? It would be an anti-inflammatory, probably.

"There is a certain part of the professional game that has supplementation or whatever that is, in terms of different types of legal medication.

"To say there is an image of medication being handed out willy-nilly, I think that is a very unfair reflection on the environment we have here at the moment, and that's all I'm really concerned about. Change is ongoing all the time. Things change all the time."

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The problem that some people have, which is understandable, is what message is sent to young players and parents in the wake of O'Driscoll's comments?

While he did make it clear that taking prescribed medication only really became a "habit" in the latter stages of his career, O'Driscoll did admit that "it gives yourself the chance of playing your best game".

Cullen was asked about that with regard to the culture that exists within Leinster.

"Any time there is medication involved everyone needs to be very, very cautious," he continued.

"The care and duty of care that we, the club, the province, provides for the players, I think is second to none.

"It would really upset me if that was tarnished in any way whatsoever because I understand how much the people that care for the players actually care for them."

Rhys Ruddock, Leinster's vice-captain, was sitting right beside Cullen throughout the conversation and before the international flanker was asked for his views, his boss reiterated his earlier point.

"If I rolled over my ankle and it blows up like a balloon, what do you do? You ice it and maybe you take anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling, because that's what they are designed to do," Cullen reasoned.

"There is not one rule for every player. People pick up injuries. That's why we have doctors who have the skill-set to treat them. I'm a rugby coach. Formerly a player.

"Over the course of time you are always learning from experiences. It's about making sure the players are as well taken care of as is possible.

"Wind the clock back further - what were guys doing in the amateur era, in terms of what they were taking meds wise, how were they looking after their bodies?

"You hear some of the tales about playing a game and then be out drinking pints. That doesn't happen any-more. There is a natural evolution to everything."

Finally, it was left to Ruddock to explain what message he would give to parents or young players about the use of these kind of painkillers?

"You get guided in the right direction, same way you would expect to be if you go to see your GP," he added.

"Whatever the route of care - seeing a surgeon, getting physio, getting an anti-inflammatory or painkiller if you got an injury it is dealt with in that way. I don't see an issue with it."

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