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After Yesterday, The Question Can No Longer Be 'Do We Have A Concussion Problem In The GAA?'

After Yesterday, The Question Can No Longer Be 'Do We Have A Concussion Problem In The GAA?'
By Gavan Casey Updated

There was an uncomfortable shuffling of backsides as the extremely mainstream issue of head injury finally reared its head on RTÉ'sLeague Sunday.

Almost relegated to after-thought status following highlights of Kilkenny's win over Dublin was an incident which saw the Cats' Pádraig Walsh take a sliotar to the face from point-blank range, sprawling him out on the Parnell Park canvas like a tiger skin rug as medical staff rushed to the field.

Play initially continued for a couple of seconds before Carlow referee Paud O’Dwyer, to his credit, blew his whistle, having kept an eye on the stricken Walsh as Kilkenny broke from the back.

"Lads, finally on this one, we hear so much about concussion injuries these days and so on," said Michael Lyster on League Sunday. "There was one injury in this game - one blow in this game, Pádraig Walsh, suffered an accidental but nonetheless...What are your thoughts on this?"

Walsh had suffered far worse than an "accidental but nonetheless," but such is the inexplicably taboo nature of concussion - particularly in sports where it's not deemed especially prevalent - there lingered a sense that the RTÉ panel felt they were about to needlessly open a can of worms by analysing the collision.

"Yeah, look, he took a very, very hard belt," began Michael Duignan's assessment.

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I feared the worst here. A rocket of a shot, and Pádraig Walsh, you can see by his reaction, it hit him straight into the face. You didn't know how he was. You see in other sports, in rugby especially, there's a protocol where you go off the field for assessment.

Lyster: You see the speed that the lads went on to treat him, so they knew he was after getting a thump.

Duignan: Anybody would know, the Walshes aren't soft. He's down and he looks to be in bad shape. What this proves is the faceguard - how important it is. Pádraig Walsh could have been badly, badly hurt. I believe he went to hospital after - there's no serious injury.

Duignan was correct in claiming Walsh's faceguard prevented further injury, provided he was talking about injury to the right wing-back's face. As is patently evident in 2017, having been screamed from the rooftops by concerned neurologists involved in NFL cases and the sporting world beyond, a faceguard - or indeed a helmet - does not prevent brain trauma. It also should not have been deemed just cause for Walsh to play on until half-time.

Having been properly assessed in the dressing room, the Tullaroan man was promptly withdrawn.

Perhaps it's understandable that two veterans in Lyster and Duignan would be out of their element talking about potential traumatic brain injury in their beloved sport; it is, after all, alien to the GAA. Neither man is a brain physician, and so it's natural that they might enter the unknown - on such short notice - with trepidation.

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But throwaway remarks about lads being 'hard' or 'soft' are now prehistoric within the context of sport's most important conversation. They should always remain part of GAA parlance, of course, but perhaps not when they're used to describe a player who was almost blown into a different postcode by a sliotar travelling at freakish speed, duly collapsing and putting their hands to their helmet.

And in fairness, Duignan appeared to realise the error of his ways, recovering - sort of - by hesitantly concluding:

Now, [Walsh] played on until half-time...which was...brave probably, they probably had a better chance to look at him at half-time.

But you'd wonder about maybe a protocol in hurling and football, maybe where they go off for assessment for a few minutes to make sure that they're ok. But thankfully it looks like he is tonight.

'Brave' cliché aside, the Offaly legend, whose concern for Walsh was evidently genuine, at least offered a constructive and indeed logical suggestion. And then it was time for a commercial break.

But later in the show came Mayo's ballsy football league victory over Tyrone in Omagh, and in particular an incident which saw Tyrone replacement Harry Loughran deliver a flying forearm to the face of Mayo's Cillian O'Connor in the game's final moments.

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Make no mistake about it, this was a spineless 'challenge' from Loughran, whose left arm was about two metres away from the ball as it collided with O'Connor's head. Befitting of the nature of the hit, Loughran withdrew his arm about two seconds after felling the Mayo captain.

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It was alarming to see O'Connor regain his footing only to return to the grass once more, crawling infant-like as he tried to recover. All in all, he tried and failed to remain upright on three occasions, eventually bending over on his knees.

Seconds later, he received a 'part and parcel' shoulder from a Tyrone counterpart as the final whistle approached. Even with mere seconds remaining, it's absurd to think he remained on the field of play while doing a not-so-funky dance, closer resembling a boxer trying to find his corner after being buzzed by a hook than a footballer.

"You can see him trying to get back to his feet. That was extremely late, and a nasty smack."

Dessie Dolan's quote above was the sum total of the RTÉ panel's acknowledgement of the incident, with Dolan swiftly reverting the conversation back to consistency relative to Niall Sludden's black card for a lesser offence than Harry Loughran's.

There's an unpleasant irony to a Tyrone player rendering an opponent briefly senseless just two days after the Red Hand's own Mattie Donnelly broke new ground in a conversation with Declan Bogue for the Irish Independent, describing an injury he suffered while playing for his club, Trillick:

I would have been chattering gibberish that evening. I was sitting at home and I didn't go to work for a few days after it.

And then there was Monaghan's Darren Hughes in Bogue's same article, who got a knock when playing against Kerry in the league earlier this year:

They asked me at half-time was I alright and I said I was. But I went to go out for the second half and I was feeling a bit off with what was going on around me. So I said, 'I'm out here'.

I felt dizzy that week and it was difficult to concentrate. It is a busy time at home too (on his farm). It did have an effect and I knew that I had to sit out a week. I was in no condition to be playing.

Frightening. Scarier still is the fact that, slowly but surely, the cart is beginning to overtake the horse. Players are discussing the after-effects of head collisions while there remains no HIA protocol in either code.

Let's learn from the NFL, from rugby, and skip the stage where we ask if we're facing a concussion problem in the GAA; head injuries are an inevitable byproduct of large human beings colliding with each other at ferocious speeds. It's an unavoidable reality. The question, really, is 'what we can do to fix the concussion problem in the GAA?'

Fans of other sports have seen it all before. They know how this story plays out. The GAA, who regularly amend their sports' rules, and who recently revolutionised their own football championship structure at the drop of a hat, must act to ward off the otherwise inevitable storm.

It goes beyond saving face. It's about saving minds, and perhaps even lives. They owe their players that much.

SEE ALSO: Sky And MOTD Reaction To Bellerin's Concussion Shows How Deluded Football Is

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