GAA Medic’s concern at penalising teams for concussion breaches

A leading GAA doctor believes penalising teams who break concussion protocol is far too radical.
GAA Medic’s concern at penalising teams for concussion breaches

Dr Kevin Moran, Donegal team doctor and a member of the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee, has warned of a knee-jerk reaction to the controversial and incorrect decision of the Mayo management to allow Lee Keegan continue playing for 10 minutes after he displayed concussion symptoms following his collision with Cork’s Eoin Cadogan in the second-half of their Allianz league meeting.

Dr Moran, though stoutly defending the credentials of Mayo’s Dr Sean Moffatt, said Keegan should have been removed from the fray immediately and was fortunate not to have sustained another blow to the head during the period between the initial collision and his belated withdrawal.

Mr Cliff Beirne of the Santry Sports Surgery Clinic, chairman of the Care sub-committee of the IRFU’s charitable trust for seriously injured players and a former member of the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee yesterday recommended the introduction of sanctions for GAA teams who put their players at risk by ignoring concussion protocol.

Dr Moran does not agree, insisting that diagnosing concussion on the sideline is “unworkable”.

“Introducing sanctions is a little bit too radical a step. I think it is difficult to extrapolate from rugby to GAA,” he noted. “It should be noted that concussion is nowhere near as prevalent in the GAA as it is in rugby. In my experience with Donegal, concussion accounts for 2% of all injuries.

“The international body which meets every four years to discuss this very matter agreed on a definition of concussion back in 2012, but it is such a complicated medical definition that it is unworkable from the point of view of a doctor on the sideline.”

The current Croke Park guidelines state that if a player refuses to heed the advice of the team doctor then the final decision rests with the manager.

And while Dr Moran has never come across a situation where a manager overruled his medical team, he believes the final decision should be with the team doctor as “managers don’t understand the concept of concussion”.

“Mickey Harte came out last year and said of Sean Cavanagh after a league game, ‘he was a little bit concussed’. You can’t be a little bit concussed. You either are or you aren’t.

“The responsibility of the doctor is to make the diagnosis and to tell the player to come off. In that sense, the doctor’s say in final.

“If a manager leaves a player on the field after the doctor has told him the player is concussed and if the player sustained second impact syndrome, the manager could be up for manslaughter.

Carlow GAA doctor, Dr Tom Foley, is in favour of putting an independent medic in the stand to assess incidences of concussion as “it looks dreadful to see an injured player left on the field”.

The GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee expressed opposition to such a move before Christmas and Dr Moran reckons the Keegan incident strengthened their case.

“Lee Keegan had an evolving injury and there is no test that you can do on the sideline that can definitively determine that somebody is not concussed or more seriously, that somebody did not have a concussion that is evolving into a much more serious injury over time.

“When Lee Keegan stood up, it was very clear he wanted to stay on the field. It appeared he was remonstrating with the referee. There was some difficultly for Sean [Moffatt] making the decision. If he had been taken off a few minutes earlier, it would have looked an awful lot better. One of the problems of being trialled by social media is that it can be very unfair.

“In retrospect, it looks black and white, especially with Dr Con (Murphy) coming out and taking Eoin [Cadogan] off. That probably makes it look a lot worse.”

Dr Foley, a past member of the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee, believes greater education is required.

Citing Dublin footballer Rory O’Carroll, who was left on the field during the closing stages of the 2013 All-Ireland final, he feels managers should work off the approach that “every player has to go to work on Monday morning”.

“We have to stop putting players at risk. Who are they of benefit to when they are out on that field injured? No one.”

Speaking at the GAA’s games development conference a fortnight ago, former Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy said: “From a manager’s point of view, you’re always focused on the result and that’s a dangerous place to be when there are players at stake.”

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