There is a total lack of education surrounding concussion at GAA club level, according to former Galway footballer Cormac Bane, who has been forced to hang up his boots at the age of 35 following two bangs to the face which have considerably hindered the quality of his everyday life.
A message from Bane, posted on social media by his club, Caherlistrane, on Monday evening, outlined that medical advice has dictated he retire from the game with immediate effect.
“Hi guys, a disappointing day for me today. On medical grounds, I have to announce my retirement from football,” he wrote.
“A serious and prolonged concussion injury last year has been followed by a similar one sustained versus Carraroe. Doctors have said that I can’t continue. I just want to thank you all for your support and kind messages over the years. I really appreciated it.”
Calling time on his 20-year adult playing career with Caherlistrane wasn’t as difficult a decision as you might think. In truth, there was no decision at all. Bane has a wife and two children who rely on him. And as he was told by the consultant last week, a third blow would mean long-term memory loss, seizures, more severe mood swings, and, possibly, epilepsy.
“I was in a lift at work on Monday, I wanted to go to floor three, but I ended up going to the wrong floor. I’d be taking phone calls as part of my job and after I’d put down the phone, I’d have forgotten what the person said to me,” Bane told the Irish Examiner yesterday, laying bare the implications of two separate concussions.
"Last week, I went down to the shop, but to get there, I had to cross the road. It is a quiet road but crossing was a bit of an issue for me. There were no cars coming, but it took me a couple of seconds to make the decision that you can go now. As I was crossing, I felt I was running across as I couldn’t process what was going on.
“I feel worse today than I did the day after I got the second bang two-and-a-half weeks ago. All of this makes me uncomfortable. I am not functioning properly since I got these two bangs.”
Bane has been playing adult club football for Caherlistrane since 1999 and yet it wasn’t on the GAA field that he suffered his first brain injury. After stepping away from the inter-county scene in 2012, following seven seasons in the maroon shirt, during which he made 18 championship appearances, he threw his lot in with Corrib Rugby Club during the winter months to keep himself ticking over ahead of the GAA season starting back.
Full-back or centre is where he preferred lining out, but in February last year, he found himself at out-half as Corrib took on NUIG. Early in the second half, and having kicked possession downfield, Bane was “absolutely nailed” with an elbow to the face. After getting back to his feet and dusting himself down, the former Galway forward saw out proceedings.
But, as can be the case with a concussion, the symptoms were delayed in presenting themselves.
“When I got home, I started to struggle, didn’t know where I was, got headaches, got dizzy, became nauseous,” recalled Bane.
“I went into the doctor on the Thursday after, four days later. He said I was suffering concussion. After he did me up a letter of referral, we got talking about a Galway-Mayo game that had happened the previous weekend. Halfway through the conversation, I forgot what we were talking about. I said, ‘Doc, I am after having a total blackout’.”
From the doctor’s surgery, he made for the Galway Clinic, where he spent a full week. The man who won a Connacht SFC medal from corner- forward in 2008, having kicked 2-1 the year previous to topple Mayo in a provincial semi-final, was six months sidelined due to this concussion.
He returned last September and didn’t experience any difficulty until the first round of the Galway SFC on the final Saturday of last month.
“In the first minute against An Cheathrú Rua, I got the ball, went to take on my man, and got a bang in the face. When I got up, I stumbled backwards. I said to myself, I’m in trouble here again. That was my last bit of football.
“Afterwards, I was standing at the car outside Clonbur GAA grounds and my brother went back in to get the keys as I couldn’t drive. He was gone for all of 25 seconds, but during that time, I completely lost my bearings, didn’t know where my brother had gone, didn’t know which car was mine, didn’t know where I was. I had to lean against the car because I was falling backwards. Next day, I felt I had to bang my head off the wall the pressure was so bad.”
There followed more visits to the doctor and consultant, both informing him that he was putting himself at risk if he went back inside the whitewash.
“The depression last year and the depression since I got the latest bang is not good. It is linked in with the mood swings. You are up one minute and the next minute, for no reason at all, you are down.” What concerns him is that the GAA community are not aware of such dangers stemming from concussion. Certainly, Bane wasn’t until it twice landed on his doorstep. More must be done to educate club players, he believes.
“There are posters up around clubhouses in Galway and elsewhere detailing the symptoms of concussion. But a poster is not an education. We’re way behind where we should be in relation to concussion education.
The perception out there is that, after a bang to the head, you’ll be grand a day or two later.
“I’m having conversations with people, telling them I’m concussed, and then they’ll ask me, ‘When are you back playing?’ So you really have to explain to them what is wrong with you. You have to tell them, I cannot drive my car to work, I cannot carry out my functions as a father.
“What I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”