By Cian O’Connell
Removing bars from the faceguard increases the risk of injury for hurlers.
Seven years after helmets were made compulsory at every level of the game, Dr Colm O’Brien, a leading eye injury specialist, has stressed the importance of not taking any unnecessary risks.
Referees have been reminded to be vigilant and Dr O’Brien is adamant that helmets shouldn’t be tampered with.
Dr O’Brien is an advisor to the Medical, Scientific, and Welfare Committee of the GAA. “We aren’t getting as many hurling injuries as we used to, but we are still getting some,” O’Brien says. “They are related to the fact that players are cutting out the central eye piece”
“The Departments of Ophthalmology in University Hospital Cork and Waterford published a case study of eye injuries within hurling matches in 2005. They described the injuries, some of them were terribly serious, some of them were not. In the past you’d occasionally have had the butt of a hurl being jammed into somebody’s eye, and because of the protective faceguard we aren’t getting as many of those either.
“The decision the committee made at the time was that it would be compulsory for everyone on the field to wear a helmet at all times to prevent injuries.”
The consequences of wearing an unapproved or altered helmet are the risk of severe injury and players are not covered under the terms of the GAA Injury Benefit Fund for facial/eye/head injuries suffered.
Encouraged by the fact that the number of eye injuries have been reduced, O’Brien still feels that some issues can be avoided.
“Initially a lot of the senior players didn’t want to wear any helmets, but everybody is after getting used to it now,” O’Brien states.
“There was a period when they were first introduced, not everybody wore them and they have just got used to them now. You adapt to it.
“The particular case I was directly involved with a few years ago was a Dublin inter-county hurler when he was playing with his club. He took the ball in the eye, he took an awful bang in it. He recovered pretty much fully, but he was very lucky. Thankfully they seem to be far fewer than they used to be. Definitely we see fewer serious injuries.
“There had been quite a number of eye injuries, but then when they introduced that everybody had to wear a helmet since that has happened there appears to be fewer eye related injuries. There are still a few situations where it is happening.”
O’Brien highlights examples of how some eye injuries still happen. “The players who are cutting out the bit of metal in front of the eye so they get a better view and the second scenario is during warm ups and training sessions.
“In particular warm ups before a match when you might have 25 or 30 guys in an area of the field with sliotars flying everywhere. Also there has been one or two backroom team people getting hit in this situation. There has been one or two incidents like that when people have been around the vicinity of a warm up, they have got caught.
“The sliotars seem to be travelling a little bit faster. If they come in through the gap they will have an impact especially due to the edges of a sliotar.
“A sliotar isn’t a whole lot bigger than a tennis ball, but a tennis ball has just got a round surface. Quite often that will hit the bony orbit and just bounce away. The sliotar has the edges on it, that is more likely to cause damage.”
The GAA would like to remind all players at all levels in all Hurling Games and Hurling Practice Sessions it is mandatory for, and the responsibility of, each individual player to wear a helmet with a facial guard that meets the standards set out in IS:355 or other replacement standard as determined by the National Safety Authority of Ireland (NSAI).
All players are advised that in the event of a head injury occurring, if the helmet being worn does not meet the standard or is modified or altered from the original manufactured state, they are not covered under the terms of the GAA Player Injury Fund.
The following helmet manufacturers currently provide products which meet the standards set out in IS:355 or other replacement standard as determined by the National Safety Authority of Ireland (NSAI).
Players and parents should note that not all products provided by some of these manufacturers meet the standards of IS:355.
Once the helmet or faceguard is modified in anyway, the player is playing at an increased risk of injury and not covered under the terms of the GAA Player Injury Benefit Fund.
An information sheet for parents and players is available at http://learning.gaa.ie/sites/default/files/Hurling%20Helmet%20Advice%20Info%20January%202017.pdf