Is it just a bang on the head?

Update – I’ve linked this post to the top page due to its popularity

Yesterday, my son Keith took to the rugby field like he always does every Sunday, full of enthusiasm, energy and ready to be the next Brian O’Driscoll or Sean O’Brien. They were playing away, in Greystones RFC and the format was as it always was, a couple (4 this week) 20 minute games. I wasn’t there, I was on hockey duty with his sister so Maureen was the driver and No.1 supporter.

Nothing untoward happened for the first three games but early in the fourth, Keith clashed with a teammate. Entirely accidental, rugby is a contact sport and these things happen. But this time he didn’t get up for a just a second and when he did it was apparently clear to see he was in a bit of trouble. Almost immediately a large lump appeared on his head and through the tears he was immediately assessed by the match referee.


‘Whats your name’, ‘What day is it’, ‘Whats the score’ – he answered them, but didn’t know the score of the match, nor did he know the score of the previous match he had played in just a few minutes before. Now thats not unusual for a 9yr old in the throws of a rugby match, but any sign of memory impairment along with a head injury is a cause for concern. The referee and Keiths own coach wouldn’t let him play on.

Irish Rugby Union and World Rugby (formally the International Rugby Board) have an ongoing campaign about the dangers of concussion and the dangers of playing on or returning to the game too soon after a concussion. A lot of the publicity around concussion in Ireland has been driven by the parents of Benjamin Robinson, a schoolboy from Carrickfergus Grammar School who tragically died in 2011 from ‘Second Impact Syndrome’ – a condition where a player (in any sport) with undiagnosed concussion either plays on or returns to play before the injury has time to heal. A second impact occurs, the brain swells and the results can be fatal.

I wouldn’t have known about Second Impact Syndrome without hearing Benjamin’s parents, Karen & Peter speak. I wouldn’t have known what to do if I hadn’t read up the information available from World Rugby & the IRFU. I’d heard about the Robinsons story and as a parent and coach it was up to me to learn what I could. I’m in no way comparing Keiths incident to their story, but if he he’d played on or if he was to go on and play next week, who knows…

Keith was withdrawn from the match, sent to the First Aid and as a parent I’m delighted to hear that the full Irish Rugby concussion protocols were implemented. The Clubs welfare officer on duty assessed Keith, monitored him and gave Maureen a copy of the IRFU ‘Safe Rugby’ leaflet with instructions on what to look out for during the coming hours and days.

He has a bump, the lad he clashed with was wearing a scrum cap and if he wasn’t I’d say we’d be minding a considerable wound with many stitches. Later in the day he was tired, but recovered, he still doesn’t know the score of the match and didn’t eat a full dinner as would be normal. Thats enough for me to want to remain cautious. 24hrs on Keith seems fine, well enough to go to school anyway! He’s not impressed with no swimming, supervised lunch time instead of running free in the yard and no soccer training, but thats the price to pay for safety. We are away next weekend, but if we weren’t he would be ‘stood down’ and excused from rugby for at least 2 weeks.

It may seem overly cautious but these are necessary precautions. I can remember playing a match over 20 years ago and while I don’t remember the incident, I do remember getting up from a bang, being unsteady on my feet and thinking I could play at full back for the rest of the match, which for a prop is not a good place to be. Looking back at it now, I was in cuckoo land and should have stopped playing. Rugby is a contact sport and we have become accustomed to the bumps and bruises associated with it. But concussion is a brain injury and should be treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Every parent, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, referee or coach should be aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion and take control if necessary, because the player mightn’t want to. We all need to recognise and remove if there is any doubt, get yourself a copy or a couple of copies of the IRFU ‘Guide to concussion in rugby’ they’re free. Read the websites below and learn the indicating factors.


5 minutes informing ourselves and missing a game or two might just prevent further tragedy.

Irish Rugby ‘Safe Rugby’
Stop, Inform, Rest, Return – Irish Rugby Concussion Guidelines
World Rugby – Player Welfare

* I’d like to thank the coaches and parents from both Greystones RFC and Old Belvedere RFC. They did exactly what I would have hoped and their care and attention to the incident was second to none.

** Update – Keith sat out 12weeks of rugby as a precaution and eventually returned for the last day of his season ‘Parents v Kids’ game! As a parent, knowing how much he loves playing rugby, it was very difficult to remove him but it was the right decision and luckily he understands why it had to happen. I would have no hesitation in allowing him to play rugby, but we all need to be vigilant. It is up to all of us Parents, Coaches, Supporters and especially the rugby administration to keep our players safe.

About @killianbyrne

I'm a 40 something husband and dad who has lost lots of weight, finished a couple of marathons & triathlons and learned to enjoy life in the last few years.
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27 Responses to Is it just a bang on the head?

  1. Patrick O'Reilly says:

    Very glad to hear Keith is improving . I was with Maureen when we went to first-aid and learnt a little more ;I had assumed that ice should be put on a head bump but the person at first-aid kindly told us there were two schools of thought on this and that he preferred not to place ice on the bump. It made sense.

    • Patrick, Maureen mentioned you were there and said to say thanks. Initially she didn’t want to play the ‘worried mother’ and rush over but said you were on hand to take control! Cheers. I’m not down at training this weekend, but your sunday coffee is on me the week after. KB

  2. Philip Ellis says:

    One positive I am talking from all of this is the response from all around Keith and the precautionary measures executed by you, officials, club etc. Well done to all. Like anything in this world, awareness and knowledge are crucial to something being handled right. In all honesty, as someone who has hung up my boots only this year after almost 18years in the beautiful game, a part of me feels relieved to have done so, intact. It is getting rougher and rougher out there and only recently (somewhat disappointed in myself) I advised a family member that their 5yr old was better off getting into swimming rather than rugby. I love the game, always have and always will. But in recent times we are seeing a bigger emphasis on size and speed (a dangerous combination) and less on skill. Hope Keith mends well.

    • That was the initial focus of the post, to compliment the authorities on their response ‘pitch side’ and raise awareness of the protocols and how we as parents / observers can inform ourselves in what to do. I have no issue with my children playing rugby, as a parent I need to assess the risk and I find this risk is acceptable, I have no problem with parents who find the risk too much though. Kids need to get a bit of rough & tumble in their lives, they need to scuff their knees and climb (and fall out of) trees. There is risk in any sport, Ive seen clashes of heads as kids swim in opposite directions in the pool! What we as parents must do is manage the risk, if we over compensate, we end up with 13stone 13 year olds which is an all to common occurrence nowadays.

  3. Brian says:

    Happened my son a couple of years ago at the same age. After rugby he got into bed because he was “tired” on Saturday afternoon (!). Fortunately I live in a country where I drove 5 minutes to a hospital who had him in an MRI within 15 minutes to confirm all was well. Unfortunately that is a long way off in Ireland

  4. says:

    This is on the same theme – worth looking at:

  5. Lisa says:

    Thanks for this Killian. My son plays U12 for Dundalk and played in Dublin on Sunday and was the only kid wearing a scrum cap. During his matches 3 kids were taken off with knocks to the head (thankfully none involving my son). I was at the sideline where one of the head impacts occurred and the sound of it was horrific. Hope your son is back on form. I’ll be making sure my son continues to wear his scrum cap at every match.

    • Oisin says:

      Lisa, while understandable, please do not make the mistake of thinking that a scrum cap protects from concussion as it doesn’t. It does a lot to protect the head from cuts, bruises, scrapes etc., but it doesn’t do anything to stop the movement of the head or the brain from being shaken inside the protective skull. I say this having played as a visitor at both clubs at that age, and delighted at the knowledge now available and the responses – we just didn’t know better years ago.

  6. pmlisa says:

    Hi Killian, my son played Old Belvedere this Sunday (U12) and several kids were taken off with knocks to the head. I agree the first response support they had there was excellent. Thankfully none involved my son but, that said, he was one of the only kids wearing a scrum cap.

  7. Pingback: Is it just a bang on the head? | Irish history, folklore and all that

  8. jhartogs says:

    Reblogged this on Irish history, folklore and all that and commented:
    A very, very good article on the importance of acknowledging second impact syndrome. No matter what level or what age, there needs to be more attention given to this and players if all ages need to be protected.

    Fair play to Killian Byrne for pointing this out.

  9. Triona says:

    Why are these players not made wear head gear?? This is beginning to be a common occurrence in rugby and with boys now increasingly bulking up to play rugby this needs to be addressed. It’s a simple thing to do and surely is the preventative for serious head injuries

    • A couple of people have addressed the issue of wearing head gear so I’ll reply to you all in this post! As far as I understand it, both as a former player, Coach & referee, is that scrum caps are / were indented for blood control only. The wearing of padded clothing (shoulder pads / chest guards & scrub caps) is not advised for underage players as it creates a feeling of invincibility in them and studies have shown that when wearing these, the children throw themselves into contact situations much harder than they normal would.

      As a coach to these children I would much prefer for them to get a ‘feel’ for the game and the contact in it, this gives them much better understanding of what they are doing and things become much more instinctive as a result.

      The is rugby, I know there is risk involved, but I’m happy that we coach safely and the game is controlled to the point that it is inherently safe. Concussion, broken bones, ligament damage can happen in the majority of sports, football, GAA, Hockey etc. Even letting our children run around in the schoolyard runs the risk of a clash, we can’t eliminate it from their lives. If we do, we are raising unhealthy children.
      As Ive said before, I understand that some parents may disagree and thats fine, but I would prefer my children to fall and learn than never have the opportunity to fall at all.

      • Philipp says:

        American Football might be a good comparison here. Players there do were helmets and the result is, as Killian suggested, that they start to use their heads as weapons thinking that the helmet will protect them. But this is a dangerous misconception, as the even a helmet does not protect from concussion: the brain is still shocked inside the skull and thrown against the skull on impact. There are studies showing that American Football players (at least professionals who play a lot for a long time) suffer effects in the long run.

  10. Brendan Haughton says:

    My son Nicholas played Rugby with Coolmine and Castleknock; started at former as u7. I insisted he always wor a quality Scrum Cap. Changed over to rowing this year out of choice. I must say all coaches were excellent and Rugby Protocols look to me to be best practice among under age sports. Hope Keith recover fully, and good luck in remainder of season.

  11. Jimmy mallon says:

    It’s also good to know the SCAT TEST I e Sport Concussion Assessment Tool for which there is an app

  12. Eoghan says:

    This is the best article I have ever seen and would recommend to any parent with children playing ANY type of sport to read and to become familiar with IRFU or World Rugby protocols as these seem to be the best with the most research put into.

  13. Ade says:

    There is plenty of conflicting evidence from American Football about the use of helmets. One school of thought suggests the wearing of helmets leads to more violent impacts resulting in more concussions. You might not get the nasty big bump on your head, but your brain is still going to smash into your skull at a rate of knots.

  14. Paul Megahey says:

    The very same thing happened to my son Jack (13) last weekend at Roughfort playing for BRA (Belfast). Clashed heads with a team mate when they both went to tackle the same player. As was said before, the noise was sickening – and quite unnerving when you’re watching from the side. Both boys had huge eggs on their heads, though no broken skin, which was surprising. We ran on the pitch, and called the referee/coach who stopped the game and the boys were taken to the St John’s Ambulance, which is always at hand at Saturday matches. The coach, Mark, and St John’s were great; asking the boys questions to test their reactions. My boy, Jack, was a little worse for wear and complained of spots in his vision and feeling a little sick. At Mark’s suggestion they took him to Antrim Hospital – the idea being that arriving in an ambulance would speed things through – which worked! The hospital scanned him and kept him for four hours and sent us home with directions and advice should his condition change. He slept most of the evening, had no appetite and we poked him every couple of hours just to elicit a response, as suggested by the doctor. By Monday he had a black eye that Joe Frazier would have been proud of – and a sore head, but otherwise fine. He won’t be playing any sport for a couple of weeks!

    All the protocols were followed and heeded – as they should be, especially with any head injuries. That helps the boys as players to understand their limits, the coaches to know their responsibilities and allows the medical teams to do their jobs and the parents the comfort of knowing that the boys’ safety is paramount.

    On the issue of headgear: he wasn’t wearing any and nor was his team mate. It was a pure accident and not caused by kamikaze play. They were both struck on the front corner of the head and I’m not sure guards would have helped either of them. I think Jack might change his mind and wear one now – for the right reasons – but I completely agree that for some kids the protective gear can be seen as licence to dive in where they would otherwise never have gone. Rugby is a competitive, physical sport but we need to not allow the physical brawn to become the only way to play it. Unfortunately the international and major club game is now all about ‘the contact area’. In my day that’s the bit we used to try to avoid!

  15. Tracey says:

    Hi Killian. Just came across this article after a friend posted it on Facebook. I taught kids and adults Taekwon-do for years, also coached and refereed at competitions. Sparring was always controlled with strict rules, protective gear and light contact, no head strikes for younger kids, etc, but as you say, it’s a contact sport and accidents happen. Even if they recovered quickly and felt/appeared okay and wanted to continue, if the head was involved, I would pull them out of the competition. Thankfully, it was quite rare. This awareness is important for all involved in any contact sport. Thanks for sharing this story.

  16. sarah Williams says:

    I would just like to say I’ve set up a site called safety comes first I have a u18 girls team in south wales ppl do not realize how serious this can be hope he get well soon

  17. Cathy Parsons says:

    I’m glad Keith is ok, a bump on the head is indeed a head injury and you just don’t mess around with those! He was given absolutely the right treatment x

  18. lorraine says:

    Hey Killian
    Sounds very much like my son’s story….lives for Rugby. ..He was playing his first match of the season fell straight back from a ruck & bounced his head didn’t lose consciousness but couldn’t open his eyes and was very unsteady on his feet….went straight to a&e….Two days later went to Beaumont hospital..For the longest 3 weeks of my life…After numerous ct & mri scans & consultations with so many docs no damage was found…He needed intense physio to learn how to stand and walk….His eyes only opened properly after two weeks..There was no concrete explanation for his symptoms no one could pinpoint why. It was just deemed a severe concussion.. He has only just gone back to pe after a very frustrating 10 weeks of no activity…no contact sports until at least next sept…
    Although various reports prove that scrum caps do not prevent concussion I am now an advocate for their use in all underage rugby as although they may not prevent it they may soften the blow…Make sure your son wears one!!! I know mine definitely will from now on….

  19. Good Stuff!! I’m a team Manager to an under 12s team over here in Huntingdon, England. The RFU have also instigated very clear guidelines on this matter and to the most part it’s great to see the clubs embracing these. It’s a tough call to pull the lads out of the game they love and sometimes it can be hard when the kids own parents don’t buy in so anything like this shared really helps to both enforce and change the culture on this.

  20. Expat Dad SG says:

    Reblogged this on Expat Dad SG and commented:
    Sharing Sunday: A really good account from a father who’s son had a head clash during a rugby match. As some someone said in the comments, awareness is everything so please have a read.

  21. Pingback: Top 15 Concussion Stories of 2014 | All Concussion

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