Players to get what they need not what they want

As you can imagine, the decision to introduce the mandatory wearing of mouthguards at all levels of Gaelic football was met with mixed opinions among inter-county players.

In most cases, a gumshield is something most footballers have discarded because of discomfort in breathing.

Monaghan’s Darren Hughes made that very point in reacting to the decision by Congress two years ago to introduce the measure, which started in January at all levels up to and including minor level.

Others like Wexford’s Aindreas Doyle and Anthony Masterson, Derry’s Paddy Bradley and Antrim’s Paddy Cunningham raised similar concerns about the initiative.

That was then. Things are going to become a lot more real now as from January 1 no inter-county — or any — footballer will have a choice but to wear one.

Just how difficult of a transition will it be at elite level? If last month’s All-Ireland final is any indication it will be a tough changeover for a lot of players.

Of the 30 who started that day, roughly half do not wear a mouthguard. Incidentally, two-thirds of the winning Dublin team do.

Last year’s All Star team? A measly three. Among the other 12 were Alan Dillon and Michael Murphy, who last December launched the national roll-out of compulsory mouthguards at under-age level, excluding U21 and colleges. It remains their prerogative to do as they wish but their preference not to wear one this season illustrates footballers will not be agreeing so much as acquiescing with the new rule.

The penalties for not abiding by it are severe, more so than the black card which also comes in on January 1. Punishment for a player found not to be wearing one is a caution followed by a sending off if he doesn’t heed the initial warning. They are also not covered under the GAA player injury scheme if they don’t comply with the rule.

The GAA has genuine safety concerns about any sort of head injuries to footballers. At inter-county level, the number of concussions has risen dramatically. In Saturday’s second International Rules Test, Colm Boyle became the latest to suffer one following Jonny Cooper and Rory O’Carroll in the All-Ireland final.

Speaking to this newspaper earlier this year, Sean O’Connor from O’Connor Dental Health Care in Ballincollig said mouthguards were more than just about protecting teeth.

“Gumshields protect the teeth but they’re primarily there to prevent skull fractures, taking the pressure from the outside and preventing any impact from going through the nose up to the skull.”

It is also claimed a mouthguard can reduce the extent of facial injuries by as much as 80%, while the Irish Dentistry Association’s Dr Maurice Quirke has compared not using one in Gaelic football to refusing to wear a helmet on a motorbike.

There is an abundance of logic supporting the move, not least for the GAA’s pockets in implementing a rule which will combat the financial costs to their injury scheme. There is also prestige attached to being a world leader in this sphere of injury prevention, but its administration might prove a handful.

As if the advent of the black card isn’t enough, referees must also police players to ensure they are wearing a mouthguard.

GAA director general Páraic Duffy maintains it, like the compulsory guarded helmet in hurling, won’t cause too much fuss.

For some, though, there’s no doubt it will be a culture shock and January’s pre-season competitions will be a training ground for getting acquainted with their new gear.

A fuss will be kicked up but Duffy is right — everyone will move on quickly enough.

Brian O’Driscoll’s story earlier this month about how he brought his gumshield with him to the Lions’ final Test against Australia indicated how much he valued it.

Musing about Jamie Roberts possibly breaking down in the warm-up with an injury, he recalled: “I can deal with everything else, but I can’t get a gumshield, one that I’m comfortable with.”

Boiled down, this is something the GAA wants — not the players. But it might be realised this is something they need.

The face of the game is changing whether they like it or not.

Aussies must make a better effort

On Sunday evening, this writer was interviewed by Melbourne sports radio station SEN’s Morning Glory show about the Australians’ International Rules efforts this past fortnight.

The sense of embarrassment among the show’s staff was palpable although being called a whinging Irishman by one listener was a new one.

Shame is a strong emotion and if the AFL succeeded in doing one thing in sending a grossly inadequate team to these shores then it was focussing minds Down Under.

National pride is a thing the Australians hold very dear. The damage done to it over the two tests — even in a game they are largely indifferent about — might just be the saving grace for this series and sting clubs into releasing their best players who want to represent their country.

Gauging the feeling of the Ireland team on Saturday evening, it was obvious they had enjoyed schooling their inferior opposition, which some of them privately regarded as an insult.

They would have beaten better Australians teams too. For their sake alone, they deserve a chance to prove that next year.

You can’t complain if you don’t watch

As Ireland becomes more and more acquainted with interacting on social networks while watching television, it’s become a Friday night habit of many to give out about the standard of The Late Late Show.

Why these people continue to watch it may remain a mystery if they didn’t need something to disagree with.

The current presenter often gets it in the neck for his watery interviews with sports personalities. However, the programme’s failure to truly reflect Ireland as a sporting nation extends back long before his tenure. Sure, plenty of our best and greatest are plonked on stage but the frame never seems to suit the picture.

I didn’t watch the Seán Óg Ó hAilpín or Warren Gatland interviews last Friday.

I didn’t have to. I won’t complain.

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