Micheal Quirke: Let’s help broken GAA stars ease their bodies into retirement

Reading Paul Keane’s article in this paper last week about the massive surge in hamstring injuries in the GAA and how the effects of all these injuries accumulate and last much longer than one week, a month or a season got me thinking.

I’m 34, a relatively young man, but in GAA playing years — a veritable dinosaur. When I wake in the morning now, my first thought is to not sit up.

I have to consciously roll onto my left side and ease myself up to a sitting position, then I must slowly swing my feet out of the bed and while leaning against the wardrobe, help myself up so the protruding disk in my lumbar spine won’t get annoyed and force my whole lower back into spasm for a minute or so. All wear and tear apparently.

Years of a big body jumping, landing, running, falling, getting battered and abused. It’s to be expected, don’t you know. Oh yeah, the mornings are great fun.

Eventually, after X-rays and MRI’s and a number of injections into the facet joints of my back, and restarting a long term strengthening programme for the core and glutes, I can at least get back to playing on the floor with my kids again. Small steps. I still wouldn’t dare to try and swing a golf club mind, that was to be my retirement game. It will have to wait.

But if anything, the worsening state of my back took my attention off my right knee for a while. A knee that is in rapidly growing need of another cartilage clean up job by the overworked Dr Ray Moran in the clinic in Santry. And I won’t even start about my hip, or somebody will organise to have me put down.

But look at Declan O’Sullivan’s knees, they haven’t seen a shred of cartilage in years. Dermot Early retired with an Argos catalogue size list of injuries. How will Henry Shefflin’s knees be looking in a decade or so down the line? Darran O’Sullivan has already had both hips operated on.

I mean, most of the players of ‘Kerry’s Golden Years’ can’t get out of the country anymore because metal detectors don’t believe that humans should be carrying that amount of hardware in their bodies. It’s not so much the games but the huge amount of training that takes the degenerative toll on the player’s body.

My point is this, I’m not aware of any meaningful mechanism, either by the GPA or GAA to support players when they finish their playing careers in terms of creating a plan to assist them in the maintenance of accumulated injuries gathered over the course of training and playing inter-county football or hurling.

To contrast, in the AFL, their player association launched the AFL Players’ Trust in 2013. Their president Luke Ball said: “Players put their bodies on the line each week and will pay the cost for the rest of their lives. 64% of past players remain affected in their current daily life from a previous AFL injury, with 60% of these requiring medical treatment”.

It would be intriguing to see the corresponding GAA data into retirement.

And I’m not talking about fellas getting money for jam here. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford health insurance, which alleviates a lot of financial burden, but many guys who finish up playing are not in that position, and suddenly when you are outside the bubble of the inter-county dressing room; the countless free physio and massages sessions are gone, doctors, MRI’s all have to be paid for.

We are talking now about inter-county teams who are training more than ever before and at a higher intensity than ever before.

Eventually that is going to take a savage toll.

Then you’re done. Thanks for the memories. Best of luck with the aches and pains.

I find the GPA, as the player’s representative body, progressive in everything they do. They are doing incredible work raising the awareness of issues surrounding mental health, and removing the stigma attached to it.

But somebody up there needs to take a real look at the issues surrounding the physical health also, and how we can put a programme in place to support players who give years of service to their county, and who are left with broken bodies and a poorer quality of life as a result.

Particularly for those players in the initial two-to-three years out of the game, when it is still a shock to the system that your medical support has disappeared.

Looking back, you ask any player would they change a day of what they did? Absolutely no chance.

But we as an association can do a better job of helping future generations of inter-county footballers and hurlers ease their bodies into retirement.


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