Christy O'Connor: Hamstring injuries hit Cork and all counties across the league

Rebels, like most GAA teams this season, are counting the cost of a short run-in to the return to action 
Christy O'Connor: Hamstring injuries hit Cork and all counties across the league

Cork's Cathail O'Mahony pulls up injured against Westmeath. Picture: INPHO/Ken Sutton

AFTER Kildare recently secured their ticket back to Division 1 again with a win against Meath, the sweetness of such an important victory was soured when the extent of Kildare’s casualty list was assessed afterwards.

Before the game, Kildare lost their best forward, Daniel Flynn to a hamstring injury in a challenge match against Down the previous week. Paul Cribbin was taken to hospital with what looked like a serious ankle injury while Kildare also lost Kevin Feely and Jimmy Hyland to hamstring injuries during the Meath match.

Kildare still had three weeks to try and get everyone fit for their championship opener against Offaly or Louth but having three of their best players – Flynn, Feely and Hyland – injured is a real worry when they are on the treatment table with hamstring strains.

Kildare's Kevin Feely and Ciaran Russell of Clare in action. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan
Kildare's Kevin Feely and Ciaran Russell of Clare in action. Picture: INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan

Kildare are just one of a number of teams beset with a spate of hamstring injuries but, in many ways, it was almost inevitable, with Kildare playing four tough games (and a 45-minute challenge game against Down) in five weeks. Given the huge volume of that load, something was always likely to give in such a condensed period, and with such a short preparatory lead-in due to the lockdown.

The list of hamstring injuries across the board was astronomical during the league. Yet the plague seems more attributable to the short run-in than any increased physiological strain, particularly when players were used to playing seven league games in nine weeks under the old league format.

Players' lifestyles now are so dynamic compared to players in the past that they are fit and robust enough to be able to take on the physical demands of training in such a shorter block.


Yet the biggest difference with facing into the league this time around was that the pitches were far better and faster, which led to more high-speed running. The football was also more open, with less of an emphasis on blanket defending, and more of a focus on space creation and running at defences.

Despite the changes, most management teams, particularly the S&C coaches, have a full year of information from their GPS data to assist in their preparation for shorter and more condensed training blocks.

Working closely with the coaching and medical teams provides greater detail around that information for S&C coaches. Everyone knows which training drills or patterns deliver the optimum outcomes, along with processing a greater knowledge of what works best in terms of recovery, particularly when high injury-risk players have to be managed.

Hamstring strength isn’t the only factor that reduces the incidence of muscle injuries, so preparing players for the high demands on the muscles for peak speeds is considered a key way to reduce the risk of hamstring injury. It’s still a fine balance because, while peak speed exposure can be a ‘vaccine’ against muscle injuries, it might also be the cause of those injuries if not managed in the right amounts.

In elite soccer, hamstring injuries represent 37% of all muscle injuries. In GAA, hamstring injuries account for up to 20% of injuries sustained. 

There are different grades of hamstring tears but the injury is all the more complicated again with such a high recurrence rate; in elite soccer, between 12% and 33% of players who have had a hamstring injury damage the muscle again when they return.

In 2016, a 13-year longitudinal analysis of the UEFA Elite Club injury study – published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine - revealed how hamstring injuries have increased by 4% annually in men's professional football.

The study, which analysed 1614 hamstring injuries, concluded that while training-related hamstring injury rates had increased substantially since 2001, match-related injuries remained stable.

“The challenge,” stated authors Jan Ekstrand, Markus Waldren and Martin Hagglund in their conclusion “is for clubs to reduce training-related hamstring injury rates without impairing match performance.” 

That is much harder though, in an amateur game, especially when players may be driving long hours, both at work and to get to training. Elite GAA may have reached a near-professional level but, it’s still not professional, particularly when compared to the medical and scientific back-up professional players have all day, every day, at their clubs.

Managers, coaches, S&C coaches, physios and doctors are still always searching for that next level of improvement which, in many cases in the lead-in to the championship will heavily focus on injury prevention and recovery.

On RTÉ’s ' Allianz League Sunday' recently, former Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice felt that one of the reasons for so many hamstring injuries was that there was too long of a gap between the end of the warm-up and the ball being thrown in.

Fitzmaurice pointed to the conditions – weather and game logistics – that may have contributed to Michael Murphy’s hamstring injury three minutes into Donegal’s second league game against Monaghan, which saw Murphy effectively miss the entire league.

“It’s always been a pet peeve of mine,” said Fitzmaurice. “In Ballybofey (that evening), it wasn’t exactly warm, it was raining, it was real hamstring weather if you have any bit of an issue going on.

“I think it’s something we could be looking at, that teams can do something small again after the national anthem before they go into their positions to get the muscles firing again.” 

S&C coaches have long been conscious of those concerns in that interval period before the match starts, but they are limited in what they can do in such a short time span. Yet they will search and try to find that additional time to ensure every player is fit and ready to go once the first whistle is blown.

Because a spate of hamstring injuries in a knockout football championship could end a team’s ambitions in a flash.

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