STOP treating the players like children, that’s the message from Waterford’s Eoin Kelly to the GAA as the new rule on compulsory wearing of helmets is about to take effect.
Eoin is one of a number of senior players who don’t use a helmet, but with the GAA taking a strong line on Health & Safety, they will be faced with a stark choice on January 1 – wear a full-face helmet, or retire.
Speaking in Buenos Aires, where he is a member of the current Vodafone All Star hurling tour, Eoin is not impressed. “They treat us like kids,” said Eoin. “Next year it’ll be ‘Get your Mammy to put on your helmet for you before you go out and play’, or something stupid like you can’t wear studded boots.
“That’s the way it’s going, every year it’s something different. They do it for the National League and then they scrap it and go back to normal. There are games that fellas are training for for six or seven months, and the game could be changed on a ball given wide or something like that – they’re the issues that should be improved on.
“We could have lost an All-Ireland quarter-final last year over it (two controversial umpiring decisions against Galway). Lucky enough we didn’t but we could have, only a point in it at the end. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, the game is so fast, but they’re the things you should change, not childish things like ‘You have to wear a helmet, and be in school for two o’clock’. That’s the way it’s gone.”
In training for last Saturday’s match in Buenos Aires between the All-Stars of 2008 and 2009, Eoin tried on one of the new full-face helmets but found it difficult, didn’t wear it for the game itself. “It’s going to be hard. The GAA should really look at fellows over 25 who have not worn a helmet for 10 of 15 years. I don’t know if it’s driven by insurance or what, but it is going to be wicked hard. Dan Shanahan, Ken (McGrath – Waterford teammates), fellows like that, they have not worn a helmet in 20 years. I’m 27, haven’t worn one since I was 11 or 12. As John Mullane (another Waterford teammate, also on this trip) said earlier, it’s grand putting it on in the winter but when you are going out on a sunny day and it is 24 or 25 degrees, it’s going to be hard to wear it. Even fellows who do wear helmets, you see them taking them off during a match on a hot day.”
Buenos Aires wasn’t his first recent experiment with a helmet, however – he has been experimenting. “I got one from Ronan Curran (Cork player, with Mycra Helmets), an extra-light one. It’s grand, but I haven’t done a whole lot of practicing. It’s like being stuck in a small room. It’s very claustrophobic for me – that’s how I feel and I wouldn’t be great with claustrophobia anyway. I feel a bit closed in by it. You just don’t have the same vision that you would have without the helmet. I don’t know why it is gone compulsory. They should have held a survey of the players and asked what they thought, but there was no consultancy at all.”
According to GAA president Christy Cooney, however, there was consultancy, and while it wasn’t with the current players, the decision was taken – ultimately – for their own good: “We don’t treat anybody like children,” he said. “We have a medical work-group and they did enormous work on this situation, they take the best possible medical advice for the sake of all our players.
“Research has shown the injuries we have had, and you can see now there is no young player going out and playing any game without a helmet, which is right and proper.”
Mr Cooney also rebuffed the suggestion that it hadn’t been phased in, with an exemption for those over a certain vintage, or that he had a problem with consulting the players.
“Well, we did phase it in, in actual fact, it was made compulsory up to U-21 first, and then we said we were going to bring it in at all levels after that.
“I have absolutely no difficulty with players being involved in areas like this, and once we finalise our agreement with the GPA before next October we will do that.
“Some players like to get involved, some don’t have the time to put into five or six meetings, but I am very open to that. I have spoken to some players out here, they’ve been working with helmets, trying them out in ball alleys and stuff like that. I don’t believe there will be an issue, genuinely.”
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