This wet spring is tough on the joints. Not only might those who have incurred past injuries feel a certain ache in their bones when the weather is damp (it’s to do with barometric pressure, apparently), but playing surfaces around the country are slippy and treacherous.
It’s not often you see Fraher Field trending on Twitter, but that was the case last Tuesday as Waterford took on Limerick in the first round of the Munster minor hurling championship. Limerick edged the low-scoring game by a goal, but the conditions – driving wind and rain – were the story. The rainwater sat on the surface of the pitch, and images of the players splashing around in puddles were widely shared on social media. It’s a good thing no one was badly injured.
With intercounty panels ramping up training loads in preparation for championship, and conditions underfoot far from ideal, the stage is set for the dreaded twist-and-pop of a knee injury. David Burke is the latest high-profile player to have this stroke of bad luck, injuring his cruciate ligament in training last week. Bang – season gone. It is cruel. His manager, who knows all too well what it’s like, told Galway Bay FM that the situation was ‘devastating’ for Burke, but that he will still contribute to Galway’s season, given his influence in the dressing-room.
Tipperary, too, have been unlucky this season, with Paddy Cadell tearing his cruciate in a league game against Kilkenny last month, and with Seamus Callanan sustaining a medial ligament injury in the win over Waterford the week before last. Callanan will be back, though will miss the opening rounds of Munster; Cadell, like Burke, is gone for the year.
Offaly’s Oisín Kelly, the Christy Ring Cup Hurler of the Year in 2021, tore a cruciate ligament for the second time in 18 months (one on each knee) during their recent win against Carlow. This means he is effectively ruled out of the season for the second year in a row. Offaly’s footballers are also struggling with a raft of longterm injuries, prompting Michael Duignan to speak out recently about the preponderance of knee injuries, not just in Offaly but across the GAA.
‘It is non-stop,’ he told the. ‘Why are so many people getting injured, especially cruciates? It seems to be out of control with GAA players. Whether it is to do with the training load or what is being expected of amateur players, I don't know.’ Indeed, it’s hard to think of an intercounty team for whom the dreaded c-word hasn’t been a problem in recent years. Pauric Mahony missing the 2020 final. Peter Casey exiting the 2021 All-Ireland final. Brendan Maher in 2018, Bonner Maher in 2019. Mark Coleman, who is recovering after surgery last December. John Conlon and Adrian Mullen, who both recovered over lockdown. Sisters Kellyann and Aoife Doyle, who both missed the All-Ireland final last year with cruciate injuries.
It used to be a career-ender, in part because it often afflicted sportspeople with a lot of miles on the clock – but increasingly, it affects younger players, even teenagers who are heavily involved in sport. One of the cruel aspects of cruciate injuries is that they don’t always happen in extraordinary circumstances. It can be the simplest thing. According to an RTÉ Brainstorm article by Aoife Ryan-Christensen from 2019, 70% of ACL injuries are non-contact, typically occurring when changing direction or landing. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as colliding with another player and losing your footing. Another interesting fact from that Brainstorm piece: two-thirds of ACL injuries occur in matches rather than training, suggesting that it’s in the heat of all-out competition that our joints are most vulnerable.
Our knees are astonishing mechanisms: we can’t run, jump, or turn without them. They hold lots of moving parts, held in a nervy tensile balance. Strong hamstrings and quads are essential for protecting the knees, as are warmup exercises such as the GAA 15 injury prevention programme. Tread carefully out there.
After a somewhat muted fifth round of games, we have our final four in the Allianz hurling league. This Saturday night, Tipp go to Limerick and on Sunday afternoon, Cork are off to Kilkenny. It’s hard to think of two stadiums with more tribal vibes than the Gaelic Grounds and Nowlan Park; whether home advantage will prevail, and we’ll have a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland final, remains to be seen.
A revitalised Tipp will enjoy the challenge of their bout with the All-Ireland champions. Having seeded back in the vital cogs of Aaron Gillane and Diarmaid Byrnes in their last game against Wexford, and with Kyle Hayes scoring a quintessential Kyle Hayes goal in the same match, Limerick appear to be cresting at an ideal time. Tipp have the advantage of a decent break before facing Limerick again; their Munster clash is fixed for Sunday May 21. I hope they go for broke.
Kilkenny’s last round with Waterford was a cagey, low-scoring affair, with Davy Fitz coyly keeping attacking ace Dessie Hutchinson well away from the danger zone, much to everyone’s consternation. It was a gritty rather than a quality performance from Kilkenny, but they still dug out the result in front of an appreciative home crowd. They’ll relish a go at an unbeaten Cork, safe in the knowledge they won’t have to think about a Munster team again until June at least.
As we head into the semi-final weekend, news comes that the league format is due for more tinkering, with the CCCC about to undertake a review and consider proposals for what the competition might look like going forward. But for all the grousing that has been done about the league (and I’ve indulged in a fair amount of it myself), we might actually have two crackers on our hands this weekend. Now wouldn’t that be a plot twist.