A quarter of young GAA players would play on while concussed, according to a new study

With health and wellbeing one of the biggest topics of discussion in GAA at the moment, a new study into young players’ attitudes show that there is still some way to go in educating them.

by Fiona O’Brien

The NUI Galway School of Health Science have recently published the results of their survey, which shows worrying habits among players between the ages of 13 and 25.

A total of 40 per cent of males that play GAA felt that they could relieve the symptoms of a concussion by continuing to play on.

This trend was significantly more prevalent in males, with only 17 per cent of young women admitting to do the same when they had received a blow to the head.

This is despite the fact the GAA’s recently launched ‘Return to Play’ guidelines state that any player who is suspected of concussion must be removed immediately from play.


They then must undergo checks by a medic before they are allowed to return to the field, and if found to have concussion, must rest for a fortnight before they play again. While the trauma of concussions, officially a brain injury, were thought to change brain function temporarily research now shows sports-related concussions can lead to long-term brain damage.

Author Lindsay Sullivan, whose PhD Topic is entitled: “An Evaluation of GAA Players and Coaches’ Knowledge About Sports-related Concussion” conducted the research. It is published in the International Journal of Adolescent Mental Health. She said: “Sportsrelated concussions are now recognized as a major public health concern.

However, despite the association of concussion with short- and long-term health consequences, many young athletes still lack basic knowledge about concussion and believe that concussions may be “toughed out” and do not require medical attention.”

This study assessed selfreported practice of playing in training or a match while concussed among GAA athletes in Ireland aged 13– 25 years old. It also assessed knowledge about concussion in Ireland.

The assessment of knowledge showed that those interviewed, from clubs around the country, tended to know that headaches and dizziness were symptoms of a concussion, but only just over half knew that feeling sluggish or hazy could also indicate concussion.

“These results indicated participants lack a complete understanding of concussion, as common misconceptions about it prevailed,” concludes the study. A survey of 171 secondary schools in Scotland, carried out by Glasgow University at the end of 2013, found that 30 per cent of teachers would allow children to play on following concussion.

The study comes after 70 healthcare professionals wrote an open letter to the UK Minister for Sport and the Children’s Ombudsman in Ireland calling to ban tackling in school rugby games, in order to prevent repeat concussions and injury.

Their open letter, which is accompanied by a petition on, said that touch rugby should be played instead and that the risks for those under 18 years are ‘high and injuries are often serious’.

“Rugby is a high-impact collision sport and given that children are more susceptible to injuries such as concussion, the absence of injury surveillance systems and primary prevention strategies is worrying,” it reads.

They raise five reasons behind their call on banning tackling, including children missing school through injury, but also the risk to life-threatening injuries, or impaired cognitive development in later life. They also argued that two-thirds of injuries in youth rugby and most concussions were caused by tackles, with the scrum also being a point of contention.

The letter sparked huge debate, with Brian O’Driscoll saying school children should not be forced to play rugby against their will just because it is on a school curriculum.

“It seems crazy that rugby is compulsory and part of a school’s curriculum. I don’t care how steeped in history your school is,” he said.

“To force a child to go out onto a rugby pitch against their will because ‘that’s what we do here’ seems incredible. “If for no other reason, this letter heightens the ridiculousness of that, that would be one win.”

Meanwhile Cork camogie player Ashling Thompson displayed signs of why sometimes players might choose to play on, herself saying she had in the past because she didn’t want to be at fault for her side losing.

When she won last September’s All-Ireland win against Galway, she landed heavily on the ground after a tackle and later revealed that she stayed on the pitch even though after the game she didn’t even remember giving her captain’s speech.

She played with her club a week later as she did not suffer recognised concussion symptoms, telling the Irish Independent: “I said I was fine because I don’t care, I hate coming off the field no matter what. It’s really important to be aware of it but then again I’d still turn around and say I’m fine. I would do the tests but it would take a lot for me just to walk off the pitch.

“Obviously it’s extremely important and I definitely don’t take it lightly at all but that’s just my mentality.”

A wheelchair rugby player from Co Down, who was left paralysed after a rugby injury in which he broke his neck also spoke out, stating that tackling shouldn’t be banned. David Ross said that his injury was just a ‘freak accident’ that couldn’t be attributed to tackling in general.

“It’s something I don’t agree with,” he said. I think that it would just change the sport. Rugby is a contact sport, and it’s kind of a key element of the sport. “I’ve no resentment at all towards the sport. I was just on the ground and the tackle happened beside me. Two guys fell down on top of me and my neck bent a way that it shouldn’t have.”

Responding to the appeal Ireland’s rugby governing body, the IRFU, said the long-term health and personal benefits of playing rugby “far outweigh the risks”.

Meanwhile in London GAA, new health and wellbeing officer Dee Malone is working to highlight the cases of concussion in the sport by adapting the guidelines from Croke Park so they are relevant in the UK. These will be uploaded onto London GAA’s new website in a dedicated section soon for club’s use.


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