Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2012-092014
  • Original article

Dramatic impact of using protective equipment on the level of hurling-related head injuries: an ultimately successful 27-year programme

  1. Michael J Crowley2
  1. 1Ovens-Ballincollig Medical Group, The Clinic, Old Quarter, Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland
  2. 2Department of Statistics, University College, Cork, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael J Crowley, Consultant Epidemiologist, Shanakiel Lodge, Rose Hill, Sundays Well, Cork, Ireland; michaeljohncrowley{at}
  • Received 6 January 2013
  • Revised 6 January 2013
  • Accepted 19 January 2013
  • Published Online First 16 February 2013


Background Major head injuries are not uncommon in the Irish national game of hurling. Historically, helmets were not worn.

Methods We report a multistage campaign to facilitate and encourage the use of appropriate headgear among the estimated 100 000 hurling players in Ireland. This campaign lasted for 27 years between 1985 and 2012, and involved a number of different stages including: (1) facilitating the establishment of a business dedicated to developing head protection equipment suitable for hurling, (2) placing a particular emphasis on continual product enhancement to the highest industrial standards, (3) engaging continually with the game's controlling body, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), with the ultimate objective of securing a mandatory usage policy for protective helmets and faceguards, (4) longitudinal research to monitor hurling injury, equipment usage and players’ attitudes and (5) widely communicating key research findings to GAA leaders and members, as well as to 1000 clubs and schools.

Results One of our three relevant studies included 798 patients and identified a dramatic association between the type of head protection used by a player, if any, and the site of the injury requiring treatment. While 51% of the injured players without head protection suffered head trauma, this rate was only 35% among the players wearing helmets and 5% among players who were wearing full head protection (both a helmet and faceguard).

Conclusion The GAA responded in three stages to the accumulating evidence: (1) they introduced a mandatory regulation for those aged less than 18 years in 2005; (2) this ruling was extended to all players under 21 years in 2007 and (3) finally extended to all players irrespective of age, gender or grade from January 2010. The latter ruling applied to both games and organised training sessions.

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