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Time to act for injured GAA stars

By Joe Kernan

There is growing concern within the GAA over the implications of long-term injuries which players sustain on an ongoing basis.

Within the past couple of weeks fears have been expressed by a number of high-profile people that player welfare should become an even more high-profile issue within the Association.

Those who continue to believe that player welfare begins and ends with the payment of nominal travel expenses and the provision of training and leisure gear should think again, too.

Far too many players are having their playing careers seriously disrupted or, worse still, brought to a premature conclusion because of serious injury.

And in many cases such career-ending injuries take a heavy toll because surgery has not been undertaken at the proper time and a structured rehab programme followed.

Over the past couple of years a host of leading players including Sean Cavanagh and Niall Morgan (Tyrone), Ambrose Rogers, Liam Doyle, Dan Gordon and Danny Hughes (all Down), Karl Lacey (Donegal), David Moran (Kerry), Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor (Mayo), Dermot Earley (Kildare) and Colm O’Neill (Cork) have fallen victims to serious injuries which have necessitated lengthy

spells away from the action.

On too many occasions, players are patched up after a demanding championship season with their county team and are then pitched straight into club action in the autumn when they should be resting or having surgery which has been delayed until their county commitments are finished.

The demands of the sport, particularly at the highest level, are huge right now but this does not mean that players’ health should be imperilled.

Former Donegal team doctor Austin O'Kennedy now adds his voice to the growing clamour for players’ health and welfare to be made a top priority.

He believes that fixtures planners should take on board the commitment county players have to give before they re-join their clubs at the end of their summer championship campaign.

And he is understandably anxious that a situation like last year whenever the Donegal championship was played off over a five-week period following the county team’s All-Ireland success should never be allowed to happen again.

O’Kennedy maintains he saw at first hand “the devastation and the damage” playing the championship off over such a short time span had on the players.

For this reason, he implores the GAA authorities to ensure that players’ health and welfare comes first.

His sentiments have struck a chord with many within the sport — players, officials, managers and fans alike.

So much so indeed that the importance of an event scheduled to take place in Dublin on Saturday September 27, the day before the All-Ireland hurling final replay, has been further cemented.

The event is being staged to highlight the plight of former players who are experiencing difficult times and who require financial assistance in order to have important surgery or other medical procedures performed on them.

Injuries, of course, happen all the time in the hurly burly of gaelic football but when knocks impact savagely on a player’s lifestyle and perhaps prevent him from earning his living, then there is a much more difficult situation to be addressed.

I hurt my shoulder in a fall recently and when I was summoned for surgery imagine my surprise when the surgeon informed me that all the damage had not been caused by my most recent mishap.

What had been a rather dormant shoulder problem arising from a knock picked up in a Railway Cup match many years ago suddenly became a major headache that will necessitate the wearing of a sling for six weeks and rehab that will take anything from four to six months.

I can just imagine the devastating effect this would have on present day players and that’s why I have such high admiration for people like Sean Cavanagh, Ambrose Rogers, David Moran, Andy Moran and others who to some extent have defied the medical people to make a successful return to action.

It says much for their commitment and loyalty that they have been prepared to spend months on end regaining high levels of fitness and, perhaps even more importantly, nurturing their appetites for a return to action.

To be fair, most county boards are prepared to push out the boat — the financial boat, that is — to ensure that their injured players get the best possible medical treatment and back-up services.

Everyone has sympathy for players to are forced to call time on their careers and many do so only after exhaustive medical treatment and countless hours in the gym in what can ultimately prove an abortive effort to regain former fitness levels.

I would have special sympathy for Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor, their top scorer by a distance this year.

This talented young player is now in danger of missing the All-Ireland final against Dublin having sustained yet another shoulder injury in the semi-final against Kerry.

For a player to perhaps miss out on this, the biggest day of his life, would be particularly sad.

I sincerely hope that he reaches a level of fitness that will allow him to play some part in the game.

If he manages this, then I have no doubt that he will add lustre to the occasion because of his exquisite finishing skills.

In the meantime, anyone who is interested in supporting the event to be held in Dublin for former players who are in need of help can get in touch with me.

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