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Big doubt over contact games

Sports Physician warns that GAA may struggle to return


WARNING: Dr Jim O’Donovan, in his role as Leinster team doctor in 2017. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

WARNING: Dr Jim O’Donovan, in his role as Leinster team doctor in 2017. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile


WARNING: Dr Jim O’Donovan, in his role as Leinster team doctor in 2017. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

A leading sports physician has raised further doubts about the capacity to get Gaelic games up and running again in line with the Government plan for relaxing restrictions over the next 15 weeks.

Dr Jim O'Donovan, the former Limerick footballer who acts as the Gaelic Players Association medical adviser as well as being a member of the GAA's GAA Medical and Scientific Committee, believes the existence of social distancing will make it very difficult for contact sport to resume.

He also pointed to the existence of two different jurisdictions on the island of Ireland as being "one of the biggest challenges" to any resumption of activity in a 32-county sport, given how restrictions in both could be vastly different in three months time.

Speaking in a personal capacity he said he didn't understand any distinction being made between club and county at this stage, stressing that there were the same risks for both.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the possibility of a behind-closed-doors championship later in the summer.

"There may be a difference in spectatorship but not for the players," he said, adding that the weekend views of Dr Cillian De Gascun, a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team, would carry weight in the world of Irish sport. O'Donovan is currently sports physician at the Irish Institute of Sport.

Some counties have already begun to source opinions from its clubs while the Club Players Association intends putting questions about returning to play to its membership over the next week.

O'Donovan added that it wouldn't be "feasible or ethical" to test inter-county players on such a regular basis that would allow them to play out a championship as long as the virus is prevalent.

“The amount for one team, you’re looking at 5,000 tests just to get everyone through,” he said. “There are also the false negatives. They are trying to work the testing out at this stage. We are months away from being conclusive about testing. For this year it wouldn’t be a consideration. And also, there is the ethical question, that you were taking tests away from the general population. You would be testing asymptomatic people. We have a nursing home crisis, people who really do need tests, frontline workers. And we don’t have what appears to be the capacity yet.”

The GAA’s Management Committee is due to meet this week to discuss the Government’s timetable but may allow more time before making any firm decisions at this stage, an approach that has served them well so far.

“I presume the GAA will have their own medical advice to inform decisions,” said O’Donovan.

The GAA has its own Medical, Welfare and Scientific Committee, headed by former Monaghan footballer Dick Clerkin which has medical experts like O’Donovan involved, while Mayo’s Sean Moffatt heads the Doctors Association.

O’Donovan has emphasised that if games do resume the need for a four-week lead-in to any resumption of GAA playing activity to guard against a surge of injuries that could be prevalent if any pre-season was shorter.

“It all depends on what it consists of but that (time-frame) is being touted as a minimum. That would be the medical advice,” he said. “It all stemmed from that lockdown in NFL in 2011.

“It was from that that there was that spike in injuries and a lot of people are quoting that in the sports field, making sure there is adequate time for adaptation to match intensity because you can do all the runs you want but until you start taking the contacts . . .

“If you ramp that up far too quickly, Achilles ruptures was the one that caused the biggest problem. That might not be so much a problem in the GAA, it’s a different sport, Achilles may not be the one but GAA definitely has a history of hamstring, that could be the one.”