For the second year running, the opening weekend of the Allianz Football League has seen controversy arise in relation to concussion. After Sunday’s defeat by Cork, the Mayo County Board released a statement acknowledging that a mistake had been made in allowing captain Lee Keegan to remain on the field after a clash of heads with opponent Eoin Cadogan.
The Cork player was substituted immediately but Keegan remained for a further 10 minutes until the Mayo medics insisted that he be withdrawn.
“The Mayo medical team accept that Lee should have been withdrawn as a precaution a number of minutes earlier, when the collision occurred,” ran the statement.
“Player welfare is of paramount importance to all involved with Mayo GAA and members of the Mayo medical team have been to the forefront of player welfare initiatives in the GAA nationally.
“Lee is recovering and will continue to be monitored over the coming days. As always, Mayo will follow the established ‘return to play’ protocols.”
Last year, a Mayo player Evan Regan was removed immediately, having sustained a broken clavicle as well as concussion in the opening league match against Kerry.
The same weekend Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh sustained a knock to his forehead in the match against Monaghan and was assessed but deemed not to be concussed. Confusion arose afterwards when manager Mickey Harte said in a post-match interview that the player had picked up “mild concussion”.
A statement from the county board clarified that this had not been the case and that Cavanagh had “passed full SCAT3 evaluation”.
Mayo team doctor Seán Moffatt is, according to the GAA’s Medical Scientific Welfare committee, one of their go-to experts on concussion.
In September 2014, Dr Moffatt spoke to RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke in the aftermath of an incident in the Mayo-Kerry All-Ireland semi-final replay in Limerick which saw a clash of heads between Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea. Both players were withdrawn for observation before both returned to the field.
“If you are a sports and exercise physician,” he said, “and you’ve done the higher training, no matter what’s happening in the game you have to separate yourself from the emotions of the game. These were two players under my care that – I would have been acutely aware of sports concussion – I felt if I let them back on the pitch when they were in a vulnerable position for a second impact I was putting their health and safety at risk.”
Sources in Mayo on Sunday evening said that Keegan was recovering well and would be monitored in the days ahead.
There wasn’t much joy in the actual match for Mayo, either. It turned out to be a thumping victory for the home side under Paul Kerrigan, who was just appointed captain.
New manager Peadar Healy has already had a productive first few weeks with a McGrath Cup already on the sideboard and yesterday his team recorded a nine-point victory, 1-18 to 0-12, over an under-strength Mayo.
At one stage the margin was 14 and but for goalkeeper Rob Hennelly Mayo would have shipped a few more goals. The one that got by was a penalty from Brian Hurley, allocated the duty after Daniel Goulding had seen an earlier effort saved.
A late rally cut the deficit but did little to undermine manager Stephen Rochford’s contention that with all the absentees, survival in Division One will be the primary target.
Mayo’s neighbours Roscommon had a sobering return to the top flight. Having led at one stage in Kiltoom by seven, they absorbed a Monaghan comeback and with just minutes left Fintan Cregg kicked a free to put the home side one ahead.
In the time remaining, as the new management team of Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell must have dared to anticipate gaining the two points, Dermot Malone equalised and the visitors’ captain Conor McManus capitalised on a defensive mistake to score a goal that gave Monaghan the lead for the first time. And there the lead remained.
The weekend started on Saturday night with 30,107 in Croke Park to see Dublin win the re-run of last year’s All-Ireland final by 2-14 to 0-14. Manager Jim Gavin was critical of the timing of the competition.
“Why we’re playing the opening round of the National League in the last week of January is really beyond me, particularly with all the talk of the fixture restructuring.”
Asked when he felt the season should open, Gavin said: “Any time after the Patrick’s weekend would do me fine.” He called for the season to be shortened in order to “give the players back to the clubs, let them do their pre-season with the clubs and come back to the county later on in the season.”
Also on Saturday, Donegal had a big win, 3-15 to 0-7, over Down in Newry.