Extra Time

Opening shot – Get serious about concussion

Lee Keegan, Mayo, is assisted off the pitch by Dr Sean Moffatt after picking up an injury.

Lee Keegan, Mayo, is assisted off the pitch by Dr Sean Moffatt after picking up an injury.

By John Hughes

Anyone who has seen the pictures of Lee Keegan following his clash of heads with Eoin Cadogan during last weekend’s NFL match between Cork and Mayo could be excused more than a little queasiness.

The belt gave Keegan a serious concussion and the pictures show his head lolling and rolling as he struggles to focus on what’s going on. Unbelievably, he played on for another ten minutes.

During that period he was effectively dicing with death.

The potential consequences of second head impact were illustrated with sobering effect in 2011.

Ben Robinson was playing for his school, Carrickfergus Grammar. During the game he sustained three blows to the head and was sent back on after each collision. Towards the end of the game he collapsed and later died in hospital.

The science tells us that each successive blow to the head massively increases the risk of a life-threatening injury.

Ironically, earlier in the day ex-Mayo manager James Horan was speaking about concussion on Newstalk and how such incidents were dealt with in his tenure.

The bottom line was the doctor’s verdict, said Horan. However he went on to say that there were times, such as with soft tissue injuries, when he would have leaned on the medics to get players back out on the training field.

So, while managers sign up for the official stance that the doctor’s decision is final, Horan’s inside line tells us that if a manager needs a player and he thinks he can play, he’ll push to have him available.

This is an area I have a small insight into. Back in the day I was playing against Silverbridge at Keady in an underage game and I went up for a ball. I have no recollection whatsoever of what happened next.

The next thing I remember was struggling to put a name to my uncle, Peter Langan and wondering why I wasn’t on the pitch. I went for a head scan that night in Armagh City Hospital, which wasn’t ideal preparation for the GCSE Geography exam I had the following day, although the rest of the Middletown lads did have great craic telling me about all stupid stuff I came out with when I was concussed.

But thinking back, I was better looked after that day than many of our top level sports stars are in similar circumstances. I was quickly taken out of harm’s way and had follow up care as promptly as anyone could possibly have hoped for.

Horan’s frank comments show that managers are prepared to push the line as far as their players fitness is concerned. But while a dodgy hamstring or mystery back injury might merit a bit of managerial ‘encouragement’, concussion is a totally different matter.

If a player sustains a concussion, he needs to be off the pitch straight away, end of story.

The problem is that, in the heat of competition, managers can be blinded to the bigger picture, and a head injury unfortunately isn’t as visibly debilitating as a busted ankle.

That is why I think the decision needs to be taken out of the manager’s hands altogether.

Where concussion is suspected the two team doctors should make a judgement in association with the match referee who will have the final say.

If concussion is confirmed a substitution must be made, or if the team have made all their subs a concussion sub should be allowed, so that the potential impact of reducing a side to 14 players doesn’t become a factor in the referee’s considerations.

This is one rare occasion where the decision is literally a matter of life and death.

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