Having a helmet on didn’t seem to inhibit John Mullane much at the weekend, scoring 2-4 from play for De La Salle but still ending up on the losing side against Lismore in the county senior championship.
From January 1st the wearing of fully-protective headgear, including faceguards, will be compulsory at all levels in hurling. But is the GAA cutting its nose off to spite its face?
Some players can handle it; Mullane, for instance, has worn a helmet ‘on and off’ over the years. He’s probably decided it’s best to get more accustomed to it now if it’s going to be enforced.
Other seasoned hurlers will find the imposition hard to take, however, having gone ‘commando’ since they can remember. Dan Shanahan for instance, who was also on form in Fraher Field on Saturday, has never worn one to my knowledge, at least at senior level.
The safety issue is probably clear cut, if you’ll pardon the bloody pun(s). You’re less likely to be split open if you’re covered up. But reducing the risk of head, facial and eye damage comes with a cost-implication attached: namely, recognition.
How many of the Kilkenny and Tipperary players who’ll contest Sunday’s All-Ireland final would the casual hurling observer be able to pick out of a police line-up? (Heaven forbid.) Probably a handful from each at most. Try it and see: look up the player profiles on the counties’ websites and you’ll see plenty of practical strangers staring back at you.
Liam Griffin is constantly calling for players to take off their helmets during pre-match parades to improve their profiles. But how many people are watching them walk the walk at that stage of proceedings? Most are either taking their seats or standpoints, or balancing the dessert on their lap.
Close-ups of players typically come after scores or controversial incidents. When emotions are high. It’s a fact that for all the misplaced criticism their emotive carry-on attracts the Waterford hurlers are among the most instantly recognisable, and dare one say popular sportspeople in Ireland; and possibly partly because of their distinctiveness.
Ken, Dan, Eoin Kelly, Mullane: they might have more stitch marks than a continental quilt, and the odd missing tooth or three, but everyone knows who they are and where they come from.
Whatever about making helmets mandatory for juveniles, minors and under-21s, forcing grown men who’ve possibly never considered wearing one in their lives, and certainly not since they were kids, to fasten-up at this stage in their careers is crazy.
These lads are more aware than anyone of the relative dangers involved in hurling. The belts and scrapes are all a part of it. Sure there’s always some misfortunate who’ll be seriously injured, maybe losing the sight in an eye, but the overwhelming majority of hurling head injuries are superficial (and I’ve read the research conducted and published by Dr Stephen Beatty at WRH, which justly argues that even one grievous case is one too many).