The GAA club season has become a hot topic of debate in recent years due to the duration of the season, the lack of competitive games, an imbalanced training to games ratio and an increasing number of injuries. Take for example the reigning All-Ireland Football Champions Corofin, who defeated Slaughtneil in the final in March 2015, and began the defence of their title in May 2015 with less than six weeks of a break. If an inter-county team is successful then the club season can last ten or eleven months, which gives an indication as to why there are so many injuries.
“It is a no-win situation. Everybody has to get results. The piggy in the middle will always be the players. Injuries are the problem, but no one can plan for injuries. If there were no injuries this wouldn’t be a problem. Every year a battle is waged between club managers and county managers over who should have priority on using players. County teams want their players to be completely excluded from club football in the run up to the championship. At the same time, club teams feel constricted when they have to play competitive matches without their best players. That is particularly true for the smaller rural clubs who rely heavily on their county men.” – Joe Kernan, All-Ireland winning manager, Armagh and Crossmaglen
A 6-month prospective study of injuries in Gaelic Football from seven senior clubs was conducted by Wilson et al. in 2006. There were nearly twice as many injuries during matches as during training. The ankle was found to be the most commonly injured site (13.3%) followed by the quad and hamstring (both 12.2%). It was found that ankle injuries were five times as common in matches as in training. Muscle and tendon injuries accounted for nearly a third of all injuries (31.1%). Tackling accounted for 27.8% of the injuries sustained and the next most common mechanism of injury was sprinting (14.4%) and turning (13.3%). The fourth quarter of the game had the most injuries (29.3%).
“The over-whelming majority of complaints I get every year are from club players. It gets worse each passing year. There is abysmal treatment of club players. It’s a great pity that the GPA decided to be elitist and confine their activities to county players because we need a CPA (Club Players Association).” – Eugene McGee, Chairman Football Review Committee (FRC)
Here at The SISM Clinic we have conducted our own 5-month prospective study on a senior club team. 50% of injuries occurred during matches and 50% occurred during training. The lower limb was found to be the most commonly injured site (77.8%) followed by the hamstring (38.9%). Hamstring injuries are averaging 14-21 days out of football. Muscle injuries accounted for nearly two-thirds of all injuries (66.7%). Most common mechanism of injuries was contact (33.3%) and sprinting which accounted for 33.3%. 61% of injuries were new and 11% of injuries were re-injuries.
“The biggest problem is the fact that at club level there is such a lack of competitive games. When you break it down, there aren’t enough weekends in the year to play the amount of games that are in the GAA calendar. Clubs and counties are over-training, there’s just too much time needed on both sides. As much as training is important, people want to play games. You do not play a sport to train, you play a sport to play games.” – Colm Parkinson, Newstalk’s Off The Ball
One of the most obvious changes in patterns between the two studies was the shift from contact injuries towards muscular injuries. Hamstring injuries are an epidemic in the GAA at the moment, as discussed in our previous blog, so it wasn’t a surprise to see a surge in muscle injuries. There are a number of factors that contribute to this. Firstly, there has been a huge increase in strength and conditioning in the last few years and these extra gym sessions combined with pitch sessions leaves less time for rest and recovery. Secondly, a vast majority of the workforce in this country have an occupation that requires prolonged periods of sitting. This involves a posterior rotation of the pelvis, shortening of the hip flexors, lengthening of the hamstring muscles, compression of the lumbar discs and inactivity of the glueteal muscles. All of these are risk factors when competing in a field sport that requires sprinting, jumping, twisting and turning. Thirdly, a lot of club players don’t value or spend enough time at their own “maintenance” work. Foam rolling, stretching and mobility work needs to be done on a daily basis if an athlete is (a) sitting for prolonged periods and (b) has an injury history of recurring injuries.
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