Pre-season fitness concerns starting to ring true as club injury toll mounts
THREE weeks into the GAA’s return to play roadmap, and the predictions of a rise in injuries are coming true. In late June, the former Olympic physiotherapist Marty Loughran sounded a grave note of caution that players were going to suffer from soft-tissue injuries without a proper pre-season.
“We just don’t have the capacity to cope with the injuries coming in
July and August,” Loughran said at the time.
His own county of Tyrone has since witnessed some high-profile examples, with Ronan O’Neill (Omagh), Pádraig Hampsey (Coalisland) and Frank Burns (Pomeroy) suffering hamstring injuries over the last two weekends.
The issue is not just confined to Tyrone. Derry’s Karl McKaigue has suffered an Achilles tendon injury, while Cavan county player Niall Murray has a hamstring complaint.
Down captain Caolan Mooney also sat out Rostrevor’s Friday night meeting with Warrenpoint due to a calf strain.
Working with Elite Physiotherapy and The Performance Lab, where he oversees the physical development of nine club teams as well as individual athletes, Loughran takes no delight in his prediction being proven right.
Part of his concern was that players were not practised in deceleration in a multi-directional sport during the period of lockdown.
“I am sitting myself at 160 per cent capacity. I am starting work an hour-and-a-half early each day and finished an hour-and-a-half late. Working Saturdays, it’s just nuts,” he states.
“The clinic itself is sitting at just about 120 per cent capacity. We are all working overtime, there is not a spare moment that goes wasted. If Frank Burns called up today and asked for treatment, it is at least a two-and-a-half-week waiting list and we had 14 people sitting this morning on a cancellation list.”
With the Tyrone championship due to start in the middle of this month, Loughran can foresee another increase in demand as training is ramped up, alongside players looking to get niggles cleared up in order to get on the pitch.
Prior to the games resuming, Loughran had laid out the potential problems for players. He cited the German Bundesliga that was averaging 0.27 injuries per game before the coronavirus lockdown, but increased to 0.88 in the first round of fixtures. However, traditions of the GAA being what they are, the instinct of players is to get in peak physical condition in time for championship action. Without the benefit of a professional sporting environment, this can lead to a flood of injuries – nothing severe, but enough to keep players out of action.
“The good thing is that the severity of the injuries is quite low, so most of the injuries we are seeing are Grade One injuries – mild strains, fatigueinduced cramp,” says Loughran.
“I would say the majority of those, from just hearing about a couple of the injuries and without knowing the specifics of it, that’s probably what they are dealing with. We are not talking massive, severe, muscle tears. I am not seeing a hamstring
tear. For every 10 hamstring injuries I am seeing, it is only around one that is a tear. So it is very mild, fatigueinduced. I think a lot of managers are managing it better. Players are more likely to stick their hand up and know when to come off.’’
The knock-on effect is not just limited to the aspirations of GAA teams. Greater demand on physio services also impacts on the capacity of health services.
“The problem is that we have to wear PPE (while seeing patients). We have to change PPE. We have to clean all the touchpoints down in the rooms and so we have to have space between patients,’’ adds Loughran. ‘‘The patients have to wait in the car park and we have to go and bring them in, so our capacity is reduced anyway.
“On the other end of the scale, the health service are talking about all these people who have suffered strokes and heart attacks and cancers during lockdown and had avoided hospital. But for us, there are people who have had back pain and knee pain and there is a backlog of those people now seeking help.
“You have those in the general population and then you have the GAA-playing population, all codes and all age groups, both sexes, playing at the one time. That has overrun private healthcare.
“I am really looking forward to the quarter-finals of the championship because things will begin to die off then, as teams get knocked out and don’t field for league games.
“If players get a slight strain, they might be more prepared to take a couple of weeks out rather than seek a meeting with a physio within 24 hours.”
‘This can lead to a flood of injuries – nothing severe, but enough to keep players out of action’
Frank Burns: Hamstring problems