TV View: RTÉ panel grapple with close contacts and concussion

Incident involving Christoph Baumgartner comes shortly after Pavard controversy

Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner is helped off the pitch after a clash of heads during their Euro 2020 match against Ukraine. Photo: Mihai Barbu/Pool Photo via AP

Who knew that Damien Duff was an aficionado of the iconic sashay synonymous with the late Michael Jackson or that the former Republic of Ireland international and current RTÉ pundit would use the metier of dance to provide one of the funniest analogies of the Euro 2020 Championships to date?

The conversation started innocuously enough with RTÉ’s Jacqui Hurley pre-empting the pre-match coverage of Ukraine’s game against Austria to discuss the news that Scotland’s Billy Gilmour had tested positive for Covid-19.

The midfield wraith - he looks like he would benefit from a hearty meal - produced a man-of-the-match performance as the Scots annihilated England 0-0 and will be a huge loss for his team’s final match of the pool stages against Croatia.

Hurley pondered aloud about how the Scottish squad could avoid close contact contagion that would deprive them of several other players. Duff deadpanned that there would have been a lot of players “moon-walking back into their rooms saying that they hadn’t seen Billy for a few days.” Both the image and the delivery were perfectly pitched.


Unhappy Gilmour may have been, but spare a thought for England duo Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell who, having been deemed close contacts of the Scot, were forced to self-isolate. Chelsea teammates all, it simply confirmed that there is too much hugging, another contagion in football, even after the final whistle.

There is another ‘pandemic’ of sorts that threatens football and in particular the players that has arisen in the last week. It has cast the sport in an unflattering light when it comes to a duty of care to the players.

Clash of heads

There was an incident in the Austrian game that rightly dismayed the panel - the third member was Didi Hamann - at half-time which centred on Christoph Baumgartner. Prior to giving Austria a 1-0 lead the midfielder was left prostrate following a clash of heads in clearing a corner. He was attended to and continued but soon after sat down on the pitch while play continued around him.

Once again he was examined and allowed to play on but shortly after scoring the goal he sought the sanctuary of the turf and signalled to the bench, obviously distressed. This time he was replaced.

These events come in the wake of the Benjamin Pavard saga, the French midfielder suffering a head injury against Germany in which he thought he’d been KO’ed for 10-15 seconds. He was then selected for the following match against Hungary, where following another potentially concussive blow, with the ground this time, he appeared a little disoriented from a positional perspective before being replaced.

Uefa said it was satisfied by the manner in which the French medical staff handled the incident in the German match but France’s handling of the incident was described as “sickening to watch” by Peter McCabe, the chief executive of brain injury charity, Headway.

Since then French manager Didier Deschamps admitted that he would have taken Pavard off in the Hungary match if he’d been aware of his discomfort. The Baumgartner incidents cumulatively were difficult to watch, completely inexcusable and must lead to a complete overhaul in terms of suspected brain injury protocols in football.

Duff said it “was sickening watching him go down” several times and later described it as “horrible” to note Baumgartner’s discomfort.

Temporarily replaced

The former Irish international accepted that the rules don’t help a manager who is under pressure to ensure his team doesn’t go a man down but advocated the introduction of a similar rule to the one that governs concussion in rugby; where a player is allowed to be temporarily replaced while he undergoes a head injury assessment.

Television footage of Baumgartner sitting in the stand during the second half, holding an ice pack to the back of his head, struck such a discordant note even if it was medically appropriate: old school reflex to a problem that requires a different intervention.

The majority of Duff’s ire, though, was reserved for Ukraine’s performance in the 1-0 defeat and in fairness this column is a little spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting from a range of remarks. A personal favourite was his observation that ‘you wouldn’t catch lads with hangovers on a Sunday playing like this in the Phoenix Park.’

Duff ventured further though in describing the depths to which Ukraine’s performance plummeted. He sighed: “That’s as bad a 90 minutes as I have seen at top level...............ever.” Shamone, as Michael Jackson once said.