Dublin footballers Rory O’Carroll and Michael Darragh Macauley reveal fear over head injuries
After personal experiences both players believe decision to go on should not be taken by injured party with concusion
Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll (left) says ‘decision should be taken out of the hands of the players’. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Dublin footballers Rory O’Carroll and Michael Darragh Macauley, this year’s GPA player of the year, described at yesterday’s Brain Injury and Sport conference how frightening it was when they suffered concussions.
O’Carroll took a blow to the head in this year’s All-Ireland football final. He continued to play for Dublin for the closing stages of the match with team manager Jim Gavin unable to take him off the pitch because he had used up all of his substitutes. The player yesterday called for incidents such as his to be taken out of the player’s hands and for independent medical assessments to take place in GAA.
The logic followed at yesterday’s conference on brain injury was that if a player suspected of having concussion is asked if he is alright, it is counter intuitive because the question is being put to a player who may be suffering from brain damage.
“I was concussed with about 15 minutes to go in the All-Ireland final and I played on to the very end,” said O’Carroll, who along with Macauley spoke at the conference on the issue of player welfare in the GAA.
“The critical point is that, by the nature of concussion, your decision-making is going to be impaired,” he added. “The decision should be taken out of the hands of the players. It’s the medics’ responsibility.
“A lot of people said to me the following day that I was blatantly concussed. But I don’t really remember much of it. You’re not really sure what medical procedures you went through. Your memory is fuzzy.
“We’ve very lucky that we have top-class medical people. I didn’t go to hospital but I did get looked at by several doctors in Croke Park.”
Macauley, who was knocked out twice in his career, was injured playing for his club side Ballyboden St Endas in the county championship. He also suggested that the issue may become more important as Gaelic footballers become bigger and faster.
“GAA players are getting stronger and fitter and there are bigger hits going in. That’s the way it is going. There’s nothing wrong with that. People just have to manage it and be smart about it,” said Macauley.
“Concussion is a very scary thing. I’ve had broken bones and dislocated bits but I’ve always known I would get better. To have a brain injury is very scary. The two serious ones were when I was knocked out cold,” added the midfielder.
“It happened in the county championship with my club Ballyboden. It was just going into injury-time and I took a hit. I was out cold for a while. I stood up, no one noticed. I was walking around and I could have been in space. They blew the final whistle and everyone was celebrating but I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know I was playing a match.
Came around a bit
“The physio then got a hold of me and brought me in and asked me where we are and I didn’t have a clue. He asked me what year it was. I didn’t have a breeze. He asked me what my name was. I got Michael and that was it. With that I went to hospital to get a scan. In the ambulance I kind of came around a bit. This was 20 minutes later.
“It’s scary when you can’t tell someone your address or what country you are from so I knew I should know these answers but I wasn’t able to. Some lads could try and stay on the pitch and think it’s for the better. But I was doing nobody any favours out there and I probably would have done myself a lot of damage if I had taken another hit.”
Recent cases in the media have highlighted the issue and when Fermanagh footballer Mark McGovern was injured in the USA a few years ago his case was widely reported. The Ulster player was knocked to the ground during a match and was in a coma for more than five weeks.
“There’s been a lot of big cases highlighted now in the media. Mark McGovern over in San Francisco was huge and the GAA community stood up and took notice. Thankfully Mark is fine now,” said Macauley. “Also the Rory O’Carroll case during the summer, there has been a few big cases highlighted.
“Maybe it hasn’t been an issue because there’s heavier hits going in rugby and heavier again in NFL, where the research is coming from,” he added. “It’s important to get the message out there and to treat a brain injury for what it is a very serious thing. I don’t think Gaelic players know enough about this issue to be honest.”