In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Concussion and the GAA - Updated.

A former Munster fullback* was supposed to have said that the true Irish sports were rugby and hurling. And, with my beloved Cork now in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, I'm delighted to see at least one of them is dealing properly with the issue of concussion.

I wrote before about Fermanagh player Mark McGovern, who suffered a serious concussion injury from an on-pitch incident in San Francisco last May while playing Gaelic Football, and how his case highlighted the failures of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) to address the subject of concussion management and the effect this could have on liability for such injuries.. He spoke at the recent launch of the GAA's concussion management program, in association with the excellent Acquired Brain Injury Ireland (ABII) and the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA).

The management program is excellent, and there is no question that the GAA are now taking the steps needed to deal with concussion on-pitch in as required by the Zurich Consensus, to which the GAA has signed up since 2008. However, as with rugby, the problem is historical. It has taken five years to actually bring in an active pitch-side concussion management program when the data showed that such a program is the best way to deal with the duty of care to player safety. In that time, there has been, as there has been and regrettably continues to be in rugby in Ireland, a failure properly to deal with concussion as required by the Association's own rules.

The statistics gathered by the GPA and ABII that over half of all players at elite levels have sustained a concussion, and 44% have sustained repeat concussions gives an indication that the number of players affected by this is not small. In fact, it's probably a majority of those who play at the elite levels of GAA, which are effectively professional in all aspects but for being paid. Mercifully, the numbers who will be symptomatic as a result are much smaller. But it is far, far too much of a leap to assume that there will be no-one who will not be symptomatic as a result of this sustained failure to address this issue since 2007.

However, at least the GAA is now addressing this issue and taking it seriously. To my astonishment, the IRFU site still states, in defiance of the comments of international referees on the IRB site to which it links to the effect that referees should bring the Pocket SCAT2 onto the pitch and use it, that

While referees will see a reference to Pocket Scat2 in the iRB Guidelines, it is important to clarify that it is not necessary to attempt to use this to assist in the identification of suspected concussion.
Begging the question, of course, of just what on earth they think the Pocket SCAT2 is for if not for its designed function of managing concussion on-pitch accurately and safely for the benefit of all.

By this stage, one has to ask: is it really too much to ask that the IRFU give those who could end up being sued as a result of its failures the proper information to help prevent that happening, and, more importantly, protect the players on the pitch?

*The quotation is attributed to Eamon de Valera, who played full-back for Munster in the 1900s.


  1. Gold medals aren't really made of gold. They're made of sweat, determination, and a hard-to-find alloy called guts.

  2. This issue should be discussed in order to know what should be the Irish national sports.