Mouth guards mandatory at under-age level from January

Following annual GAA Congress in April a new rule was enacted which made it mandatory to use a mouth-guard-cum-gum-shield in all Gaelic football matches and training sessions from January 1, 2013 (for all age grades up to and including minor) and at under-21 and adult level from January 1, 2014, writes Nickey Brennan.

Following annual GAA Congress in April a new rule was enacted which made it mandatory to use a mouth-guard-cum-gum-shield in all Gaelic football matches and training sessions from January 1, 2013 (for all age grades up to and including minor) and at under-21 and adult level from January 1, 2014, writes Nickey Brennan.

The case for making mouth-guards mandatory was based on research figures which showed that Ireland has one of the highest rates of sport-related oral injuries in the EU, with one third of all adult dental injuries being sports-related.  

In many sports such as rugby and hockey the wearing of gum-shields is the norm, with nearly all clubs adhering strictly to a ‘no gum-shield – no game’ rule. A recent survey of Irish parents found that the average cost of dental treatment for sport related dental injuries in children to be €213.14.

Studies have also shown that the overall injury risk is close to twice as high when a mouth-guard is not worn, relative to when mouth-guards were used during sporting activity. The GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee has advocated the use of a properly fitted mouth-guard for some time.

Only applicable to football

This committee was central to promoting the mandatory wearing of mouth-guards. The new rule only applies to Gaelic football. However, wearing a mouth-guard when playing hurling does reduce the risk of dental injury also. There are three types of mouth guards and it is ultimately a personal choice as to which one a player chooses.

Stock mouth-guards are preformed and come ready to wear. They are bulky, can make breathing and talking difficult and they provide limited protection.

Boil and bite mouth-guards can also be bought over the counter and generally offer a better fit than stock mouth protectors. The ‘boil and bite’ mouth-guard is made from thermoplastic material. It is placed in hot water to soften, then placed in the mouth and shaped around the teeth using finger and tongue pressure.

Custom-fitted mouth-guards are individually designed and made in a dental practice or a professional laboratory on a dentist’s instructions. These will not just offer the best protection against dental and oral injury but breathing and speech should be relatively unaffected, particularly if these are worn regularly.

With the new rule coming into effect from the beginning of 2013 at underage level, every county is going to be impacted. A lot of under-age Gaelic football is played in Kilkenny in the first couple of months of the year, so clubs need to be aware of this new regulation.

Referee’s role

While referees are not expected to check that every player is fitted with a mouth-guard, if a player refuses to comply with the rule he will receive a warning and can then be sent off if he does comply.

There is an onus on GAA clubs to ensure all players comply with this new regulation. However, the reality is that players will occasionally forget to bring their gum-shield to some games.

The advice from the GAA is that all clubs and other GAA units involved in under-age games should carry a stock of spare gum-shields. Unfortunately this will increase the cost of running GAA clubs.

Most clubs now run nursery programmes for their young players and this group is not exempt from the new regulations.

The GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee is of the view that if players start wearing mouth-guards at a young age it will become the norm in for such players as they get older.

The new regulation could prove a particular challenge for under-age players who wear orthodontic braces. The GAA recommends that such players should seek the advice of their dental practitioners on the most appropriate solution.

It is important to note that not complying with this new regulation will render insurance claims for dental treatment null and void. That may be difficult to police, but it should serve as a clear warning to all GAA players that wearing a gum-shield in Gaelic football is now as important as wearing a helmet in hurling. 

More hurling changes expected

More changes are afoot on the hurling championship and National League fronts, with a decision due on both competition structures on December 15 at a Central Council meeting.

Twelve teams competed for the McCarthy Cup in 2009 and in recent years Westmeath, Carlow and now London have come on board. It now appears that the Central CCCC, which was asked to review competition structures, wants the number of McCarthy Cup participants reduced to 13 by 2016.

The main proposals for the next three years are:

A 15-team Liam McCarthy Cup in 2014, reducing to 13 by 2016.

No change is proposed in Munster with five teams (Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Clare and Limerick) participating in the Munster senior hurling championship.

Five teams (Kilkenny, Galway, Dublin, Wexford and Offaly) are guaranteed a place in Leinster senior hurling championship proper each year. A ‘qualifying group’aimed at what is being termed “developing counties” is being added to the Leinster senior hurling championship as a preliminary competition.

It will initially involve Laois, Antrim, Westmeath, Carlow and London with two teams qualifying for the Leinster quarter-finals.

Automatic relegation is proposed to the Christy Ring Cup in 2014 and 2015 only for the lowest placed team in McCarthy Cup (reducing the numbers in the Qualifying Group from 5 to 3 by 2016).

Only teams who participate in the Leinster qualifier can be relegated to the Ring Cup. This will be reviewed every three years.

There will be no automatic promotion from the Ring Cup to the McCarthy Cup. While promotion each year is possible, it will in future be based on merit and on what is described by the GAA as the principle of ‘win your way up’.

A similar review of the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cup will take place to ensure that the competitions remain fairly structured to meet the needs of the participating counties and in line with the vision of the 2008 Hurling Development proposals.

Sensible proposals

The above proposals are a sensible move and will enhance the Leinster senior hurling championship. Their overall impact, though, will ultimately depend on the progress made by the five ‘developing counties’.

The Leinster senior hurling championship winners will continue to have a bye into the following year’s championship semi-final.

The National Hurling League is in line for its ninth change in 15 years and Central Council members are being asked to consider three options.

Two of those options are based on 12 teams in Division 1 split into two groups of six. Option 1 would see four quarter-finals after the initial series of five games. The two groups of six teams would be determined randomly.

Option 2 is the current league structure with the top six teams in Division 1A and the next six in Division 1B. After the five ordinary round games the top three teams in Division 1A and the top team in Division 1B contest the semi-finals.

The third option would see a return to an 8-team Division 1 with seven ordinary round games and semi-finals involving the top four teams.

Each of the options will find favour, but I have consistently favoured Option 3. I know some would view this option as elitist, but it will deliver the best games among the top counties.

If the GAA is proposing that the criteria for any team wishing to play in a higher championship grade should be based on the principle of “win your way up”, then that same principle should apply for the National Hurling League also.