Top medic backs GAA concussion proposal

A leading GAA medic has echoed Aidan O’Shea’s call for the appointment of an independent doctor to rule on concussion cases and other serious injuries during games.

Dr Tom Foley, a member of the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee and Carlow team doctor for the past 25 years, revealed he was overruled by an inter-county manager on more than one occasion when requesting a concussed player be removed from the fray.

He pointed to Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll’s concussed state during the 2013 All-Ireland football final as proof positive of the requirement for an independent doctor. O’Carroll was forced to see out the fixture as Dublin had already exhausted their full compliment of substitutes.

Dr Foley’s plea for centrally-appointed doctors on match day stems from Mayo footballer Aidan O’Shea’s revelation he has suffered at least six concussions in his career.

“If a person was concussed you wouldn’t let them drive a car. If a player has poor vision acuity because of a concussion, then he could easily run into someone else and do further damage. There is the potential for a serious injury,” explained Dr Foley.

“I feel that in Gaelic games and rugby, a lot of the time the doctor doesn’t have an adequate view of play and, as a result, doesn’t have an adequate view of any injuries that occur. If you are down on ground level, where the team doctor is stationed, you can’t see clearly what is happening or how the player is. If you are up in the stand, you have a better view. It is difficult to be independent on the sideline when looking at a concussed player with everything going on around you.”

He added: “The example that immediately springs to mind is the case of Rory O’Carroll. You could see that the guy was a serious risk to himself and others. Secondly, he was absolutely of no use to the team. There were two solid reasons for taking him off.

“Had you an independent doctor high up in the stand that day, he could have made the call to have O’Carroll withdrawn.

“It doesn’t happen that often, but it happened once or twice that a player was concussed, I informed the manager, and the player was left on. I would have told that manager he was totally wrong playing a guy concussed. I enjoy sport, but every player should still be able to go into work on Monday.”

GPA chief executive Dessie Farrell supports the proposal to have an independent doctor ruling on concussion, but believes it is only practical at inter-county level.

“I know it’s done in the NFL. Is it doable for us? It’s definitely an option, but again, it’s only viable at the inter-county level, which creates a disparity,” he said.

“I think it’s really important for the Association as a whole to address concussion protocols. And it’s not so much county players I’d be concerned about, but in clubs and underage, where there may not be the same level of scrutiny.

“There’s a bit of work to be done to get it right at the top level, and that comes back to awareness and education, how serious it is, and that will trickle down. But it’s a culture change, and will education drive that? And again, it comes back to culture, that if a player gets a bang on the head and is concussed then he’s taken out of the game, maybe a week or fortnight, rather that this incessant drive that I’m okay, I can come back in again. Players, managers, coaches and support staff need to know how serious this can be.”

Dr Foley lamented that the majority of club games nationwide are taking place without a single doctor on site.

“There have been several cases during league matches involving Carlow where I have been the doctor for both sides. My concern is player welfare and I would often have gone to other teams with whom I had no involvement and tell them that a certain injured individual needs to be taken off.

“At club matches I would often be a spectator and I would be the only doctor at the game. I have to tell teams to take off a lad because he is a danger to himself and others.”


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