Rugby chiefs have to act on serious injuries in the game

Our man Frank on the ongoing concerns about the physicality of his beloved rugby; When Tommy met Roy; The crisis in our health service… and the unpleasant treatment meted out to two politicians in Galway

It’s about 7 pm on Saturday evening and we are experiencing a pretty awesome thunderstorm –  the lightning literally lighting up the sky – when my son Paul arrives in from Galway and tells us that Moylough and Newbridge are both without electricity.

We wondered whether our big rugby game against Dunmore would take place at all, or might it fall foul of the weather on two counts. Firstly, could we too lose our power supply, causing us to have no lights? And secondly, if the lightning continued, would the match have to be postponed on safety grounds?

As it happened, by kick-off time at 7.30 pm the storm had abated, and the game, which our lads won 21 to 17, went ahead.

Now I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I am a rugby man, and that I played it for a number of years. But I have come to the conclusion that the powers that be really need to tackle the ongoing problems with head-related injuries.

Earlier on Saturday, I read about Carl Hayman, widely recognised as one of the best and most powerful prop forwards who ever played the game. Hayman was a highly regarded All Black who played 45 times for New Zealand and had a hugely successful spell in Europe, culminating in a five-year stint in Toulon, where he won a Champions League medal. By playing in Europe for so long, he lost out on several All Black caps due to the policy of not picking anyone who wasn’t playing their rugby in New Zealand, but even so he is one of the most revered figures in All Black history.

In 2015, Hayman retired from professional rugby at the age of 34, but since then he has revealed he is suffering from early onset dementia and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). He has spoken about the hugely dramatic effects it has had on his life; anger issues, forgetfulness, depression, and alcohol abuse are all things that Hayman has suffered from and he now blames his illness for them all. Tellingly, he says that had he known the toll all the hits were having on his brain, he would’ve retired from the game much earlier.

Head injuries have become much more common in recent years; just last week we saw Johnny Sexton getting his cheekbone fractured when he tackled Connacht’s Jared Butler. In my opinion, as it was a head-on-head collision, he should’ve got at least a yellow card or maybe a red, but either way he suffered what was his umpteenth head injury in recent years. Since that incident, we have seen two top English internationals, Owen Farrell and Manu Tuilagi, get away with definitively head-high dangerous tackles. The cynical side of me wonders if referees are going easy on top international players at the moment, on account of the Six Nations tournament being only a couple of weeks away.

But whatever the reason, all three have been involved in incidents that have resulted in separate serious injuries to two players. It is surely now time to implement proper changes to the legitimate tackle. Back in our day, you were taught to tackle low, and it seems to me it’s time to go back to that less risky type of tackle.

Even at our amateur local level, things have changed dramatically since our day. Players are much fitter, and have muscles in places none of us ever had, and the tackles and hits at that level are very intense. I just think something has to be done to ensure maximum safety for the players. I realise that the international boards will all say that they are doing everything to improve the game, and they trot out all kinds of statistics to back them up, but the truth is there are still too many injuries and too many lives are being ruined by dangerous, illegal tackles.


Riveting chat between Tommy and Roy

I have told readers several times that I am a Roy Keane supporter. I love his directness when it comes to his soccer punditry on television, and we all know that he never holds back when he feels he needs to have a go at underperforming players – especially if they happen to be on the payroll of his former club, Manchester United. However, his personal life has always been protected from the prying eyes of the media, and so it was a huge surprise when he turned up as Tommy Tiernan’s first guest on the new series of his Saturday night show.

I have only recently come to like the Meath man as a comedian, although I have always enjoyed his TV chat show. No one else would take the chance of not knowing who his guests are until he actually sees them come through the curtain (seeing Keano walk out must have nearly been a terrifying experience for the host).

As it transpired, it was a riveting interview – although some of the silences between the two seemed to stretch on forever – but both men coped exactly as you would expect. Keane was guarded in his answers, sometimes to his host’s obvious frustration, while Tommy probed into Keane’s private life as much as he could.

The story he told of his first date with his wife Theresa, which he said didn’t go so well, provided us with a side of the footballer we seldom see. He was also very adamant that he was not a great footballer or a great leader, and that he was surrounded by great players and leaders in all his clubs, and in the Ireland set-up. As always, he came across as someone with a slightly sardonic look at life.

He no longer takes alcohol, leads a very simple life, and seems to be totally at peace with himself and his family life. I really admire Tiernan for doing the show the way he does it – though I bet by Sunday morning he was wishing he’d known Keano was coming on! However, all in all, it seems the reaction to the interview has been pretty positive, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Health service woes

Out there in the increasingly chaotic world of the health service, past decisions to downgrade facilities in so many of our smaller hospitals (including Ennis, Nenagh and Roscommon) have come back to haunt us, and we now have a huge shortage of hospital beds.

The situation in the Mid-west is so grave, that having downgraded Ennis and closed its emergency department in 2009 – directing all patient care to Limerick – they are now redeploying ambulances to Ennis (after appropriate triage care) to avoid Limerick Hospital, but without augmenting any services in Ennis Hospital.

A friend of mine in the ‘hospital world ‘says everyone saw the overcrowding problem coming, but the present ‘solution’ of using old hospitals without increasing bed numbers or staff is like trying to fix a broken leg with a sticking plaster. Way back in 2009 – fourteen years ago – a Professor Lenihan said that UHL should have 600 beds – today, all these years later, it has 530! That’s 70 beds short of the target for 2009. In the meantime, our population has grown significantly, and we have now an extra responsibility to our Ukrainian refugees, so it’s fair to say that if Professor Lenihan was to do his survey now he would conclude that UHL would need much more than 600 beds.

However, as well as bed shortages, we have a huge lack of doctors and nurses. I read last week of six highly qualified Ukrainian doctors who are living in Bundoran, and I thought to myself that we could surely make use of their expertise. But various restraints mean they are currently working as cleaners and bar staff, as it seems regulations mean they cannot work as doctors here in the foreseeable future.

Now obviously the public have to be safeguarded against unqualified medical personnel, but surely there should be some way to fast-track the process to enable these people to do what they are qualified at. Another six doctors in any area would be a huge benefit, especially at a time when most GPs are overrun and not taking on new patients. It would make a great difference to the overall health service in a given area.

Of course Limerick is not the only hospital that has an acute shortage of beds, as it is a problem in all of our hospitals. How to go about solving the problem may seem like a big conundrum, but the simple answer is we need more doctors, more nurses and more beds – so all our politicians have to do is deliver them, whatever it takes!


And finally…

Spare a thought for two local politicians, Anne Rabbitte and Ciaran Cannon, who allegedly had bags of cow dung thrown at them during a meeting in Gort last week.

Feelings were running high at the meeting, which was being held over a proposed bio gas plant in the area, but nothing excuses such a premeditated act. While the supposed perpetrator says he has no regrets over his actions, in my opinion he should have.

Politicians can sometimes be accused of all kinds of stuff, but I cannot understand how anyone would take on a political career; a life that has no regular hours, huge travel, and a capacity for outrageous abuse from everyone and anyone. Financially, if you get to the Senate or the Dáil, you will be well looked after, but even that cannot compensate for the huge negatives of being totally dependent on the whims of the public vote. I have to say I wouldn’t go for public office in a million years.

I hope the two politicians recover from their unpleasant ordeal quickly, as no one deserves to be treated like that!