One more concussion and Dublin full back Rory O’Carroll could retire. The 25-year-old made this assertion despite only sustaining a single head trauma back in 2013.
O'Carroll remained on the field during that year's All-Ireland final against Mayo after a clash with Enda Varley was not diagnosed as concussion.
“The experts in Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Ireland would say three times is a knockout so if I was to receive another serious concussion I would very seriously consider continuing to play GAA,” said O’Carroll.
Speaking at the launch of AIG’s pupil protection insurance plan, the Kilmacud Crokes player was asked to confirm that another head injury could see him stop playing Gaelic football.
“I would yeah [consider retiring]. Your intercounty career, on average 10 years is a good one. Out of your life that could be an eighth so I would rather consider my future life to be honest.”
O’Carroll, who himself recently qualified as a social worker, has won two All-Ireland medals since debuting for Dublin in 2009 and a club All-Ireland with Crokes. He was an All Star in 2013.
The recent pairing of O'Carroll and concussion stems from a letter to the editor of The Irish Times on February 17th when he queried the speed in which Ireland hooker Rory Best returned to play against France, seven days after being concussed against Italy on February 7th.
O’Carroll wrote: “On the IRFU website is its guide to concussion which states: “Minimum rest period post-concussion: 14 days. Minimum time-out: 21 days. Graduated return to play: 6 days”.
“Maybe it’s just me, but reconciling the word ‘minimum’ and seeing Rory Best pummel head-first into countless rucks on Saturday begs the need for clarity.”
O’Carroll subsequently released the following statement: “Why are the IRFU allowing a professional player return to play after seven days by allowing them enter into the six stage return to play process after one day of rest when an amateur player has to allow for a 14-day rest period before entering into the return to play process?
“While the medical care provided may be of a higher standard and more accessible for professionals, damage to the brain does not discriminate,” O’Carroll continued.
“The strong force of a knock is what determines the severity of a player’s concussion. In that case is it not the professionals who are taking bigger stronger hits and so the ones who need an extended rest period to ensure player safety?”
In fact, and this may concern O'Carroll further, there is no 14-day minimum stand down period in the GAA's return to play protocols.
That only applies to players under 18. Providing a doctor agrees that all six protocols are completed symptom free, O’Carroll could be concussed during this summer’s football championship yet play a match within a week.
“Whether I believe that’s sufficient or whether I think that’s good enough, I would have my concerns,” he continued with regards to rugby’s return to play protocols.
“You can’t actually treat a brain the way you treat a hamstring, you can’t give it deep tissue massage to a brain. I wouldn’t be convinced that the two-week gap is sufficiently justified.”
Despite this, O’Carroll is not concerned about the rate of concussion in his own sport.
“The incident rate is far lower. It’s just, I suppose, just looking at the rugby, if I was to have children, I wouldn’t be happy letting them play rugby in its current state due to the brain injuries.”
Many parents would agree.
World Rugby, the governing body, have reacted by recently discussing possible rule changes to reduce the number of concussive incidents at all levels of their game.
Changes around the tackle area, if any, will be announced in September.
Nor is O’Carroll isolated as a amateur sportsman that could prematurely retire due to the threat of brain injury.
In March Patton Robinette was the latest American collegiate quarterback to prioritise his long-term health due to fears of permanent damage following repetitive concussions.
“I don’t want to get into GAA bashing rugby,” O’Carroll added. “That’s not what it’s about. My views don’t represent Dublin GAA or anybody else, apart from myself.
“Concussion happens in American Football which is played in Ireland and many other sports which are played in Ireland so it’s not just a rugby thing.
"What sparked this was my letter to The Irish Times and that was specifically in relation to rugby."
Another, perhaps crucial, difference between GAA protocols and rugby is the final decision on a player coming off the field of play in football and hurling lies with the manager, who is obliged to follow medical advice.
In rugby the doctor makes that call now.
GAA Concussion substitute
The GAA medical, scientific and welfare committee will meet this summer to discuss the deferred motion to Congress that suggested the introduction of a concussion substitute. This would make it possible for a player who passes a concussion test to return to a game. Such a test, which can take up to 15 minutes, was recently adopted by rugby despite medical experts like Dr Barry O'Driscoll and the current GAA guidelines stating "that the appearance of symptoms might be delayed several hours following a concussive episode."
The current concussion guidelines are posted under the supervision of Dr Seán Moffatt (Mayo team doctor) and Ms Ruth Whelan (Physiotherapy Manager, UPMC Beacon Hospital).
“We keep these under review and constantly update them,” said committee chairman Ger Ryan. “From the last meeting we made the mandatory stand down period for 12-18 year olds to be two weeks. That was previously just for under 12s.”
Rory O’Carroll, when asked if he believes the concussion he sustained in the 2013 All-Ireland final would lead to his removal today, said:
“I believe that wouldn’t happen again. I also believe that there are proposals being brought to Congress so with all these things they take a lot of time.”