Should McCartin take the rest of the year off?

Unfortunately, young forward Paddy McCartin is no stranger to concussions.

In the Saints’ loss to the Suns, the former number one draft pick received a head knock during some friendly fire with a teammate. McCartin left the ground concussed for the third time this season. It was also his fifth head high incident since 2014.

Concussions, and head injuries more generally, are starting to be taken very seriously in the AFL and in sporting codes world wide.

Researchers are dedicating more time to the field, and there are growing links between repeated head high hits and serious long-term side effects. The once accepted ‘harmless knocks’ to head are now deemed to be a catalyst for something far more sinister.

As a young man at the start of his career, McCartin’s susceptibility to concussions is definitely concerning. The variation in the way he has been managed also shows how negatively the repeated knocks have been affecting the 20-year-old.

After the first incident this season, the St Kilda forward passed all concussion tests and was deemed fit to play the following week. But after the second knock, McCartin was obviously shaken up and spent the next two rounds on the sidelines.

This week’s third knock in only three months evidently raised concerns in the Saints’ camp, and the club was quick to rule out any chance of McCartin playing in the short term.

“We’ve already made the decision that Paddy will miss this week’s football, which will give us a chance to do all the necessary medical tests and give us a much better idea about when Paddy’s ready to return,” St Kilda’s football manager Jamie Cox said.

“His health and wellbeing is at the forefront of those discussions – we certainly won’t compromise his health and that’ll be carefully managed.”

You would expect nothing less from any sporting club. Player welfare is always of the utmost importance, whether or not it will impact a club’s chance of success.

But is one week on the sidelines enough? Or should McCartin have an extended break from footy?

Dr Alan Pearce, a neurophysiologist studying head injuries in retired AFL players, says it’s likely McCartin will be rested for the remainder of the season.

“I think if you are looking at conservative treatment, most players are now treated more conservatively by the doctors, I would be surprised if [McCartin] did come back,” Pearce said.

“In general, if someone has three concussions in the one season, then the conservative view should be they would take the rest of the year off and just monitor how they go with exercise intensities and that sort of stuff – if there are any residual effects.”

Ultimately, McCartin will need to be 100 per cent healthy to make a return in 2016. Anything less would only be detrimental for McCartin, and the Saints, moving forward.

We all want our players out there and firing to the best of their ability. But these athletes also have every right to live healthy lives, free of possible brain damage, once their careers have finished.

McCartin has the potential to be one of the future stars of the AFL. If missing the last eight rounds of this season means he will achieve that potential, then so be it.

Health comes first and footy comes second. Thankfully, all in the AFL knows that, so McCartin will be in good hands.

(First published on The Roar on July 7th 2016)

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