By Pierce O’Reilly
GAA managers in New York are praying that sports therapists, masseuses, hypnotists and all kinds of injury experts can get their hobbled players back in action in time for the playoffs.
"I’ve never seen so many players get injured’, Ted Nastu, Riverdale sports injury expert said this week. Nastu knows all about GAA injuries. He has been treating GAA players since 1991 and has traveled on a number of occasions to Ireland with both the men’s and women’s county teams.
"A lot of the blame must be put on the inadequate training methods and facilities that players encounter every week," Nastu said. "When you train on a surface that is uneven like Van Cortlandt Park, it’s almost impossible to avoid injury. Managers and trainers must also realize that players must warm up properly before they enter extreme training sessions."
In the last month alone, more than 20 top GAA players in New York have spent more time on the physio’s table than on the football field. Down senior footballer Michael Walsh was one of the worst cases. He played for only 10 minutes for the Leitrim club after getting injured four days before his side faced Cavan last month. Walsh returned to Ireland last week in the hope that he’ll be fully recovered in time for a crunch championship club tie with his homeside Mayobridge this coming Sunday.
Mayo midfielder and Down native John Lavery also missed two vital games for the Connaught men, who defeated Longford and Monaghan with their star sidelined with an ankle sprain. Lavery twisted his ankle in the simplest of incidents while training recently at Van Cortlandt Park.
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Donegal corner back Gerry Kelly also bit the dust recently. He lasted seven minutes against Stamford two weeks ago while regular fullback Owen Cummins is also out with injury.
Struggling ’99 champs Kerry have also been hit by injury and their inspirational captain, Paddy O’Connor, hasn’t laced his boots in over a month. The same goes for Tyrone’s Paddy Sloan, who is just returning after a hamstring strain in training.
New York’s hurlers and the Ladies GAA are on the same stretcher, with several top players hurt by Van Cortlandt Park’s notorious playing surface.
There are three common Gaelic football injuries in New York, according to Nastu.
"GAA players pull their hamstring more than anything else because they don’t warm up properly," he said. "Next it’s their calf muscle, because of all the jumping on rock hard surfaces, and finally this year I’ve treated a lot of ankle injuries — due to uneven surfaces."
Nastu is adamant that most of the injuries could be easily avoided if team officials took five minutes before training and after training for a proper warm-up and cool-down session.
"Breathing is also important — the Chinese athletes have realized this for years — sport is all about mind and body. When you stretch, you must breath slowing and send the proper message to your muscles," he said.
After studying at the world-renowned Bucharest Institution for Physical Education and Sports, Nastu traveled to the United States in 1983. Qualified as a wrestling instructor and having gained valuable experience with the Romanian national wresting team, he took up a new position at Manhattan College as wrestling coach.
"The key to success is to prevent injuries, not cure them," he said. "When players feel the strain or the tightening of a muscle, they should always stop and stretch."
As to the standard of the GAA facilities in New York, clubs and players have complained for years that Van Cortland Park should never be used for championship games. The association’s response is simple: "We have to play somewhere, and until we find our own field, Van Cortlandt Park will have to be used," PRO John Moore said.