'Turning a corner' after nightmare concussion struggles, and an interesting Gaelic games venture

From dealing with injury to founding Great Grip Gloves, Dublin All-Ireland winner Éabha Rutledge has been focusing on off-field matters of late.

eabha-rutledge Dublin's Éabha Rutledge on the ball in the 2019 All-Ireland final. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

DUBLIN’S LAST TWO Croke Park deciders have been bittersweet occasions for the on-watching Éabha Rutledge.

On the long road back from concussion, the Kilmacud Crokes star was an additional panel member for December’s All-Ireland four-in-a-row triumph and last month’s Division 1 league final win, both coming against the old enemy, Cork.

Of course, she’d much rather be lining out in the famous Sky Blue jersey, but she was happy enough to be kitted out in a Dublin tracksuit as she took her seat among the wider squad in the Hogan Stand.

“It was great that we got to go in and be part of it, which was nice,” she tells The42 in the days following her side’s second-ever top-flight league title lift.

“It was brilliant. Even compared to last year, the All-Ireland final, we stayed a bit back but we were actually amongst the players, socially-distant obviously, but that was nice this time.

“We got to go on the pitch after and everything. It was nice, because sometimes when you’re injured, you can kind of feel a bit isolated.” 

Tweet by @Kilmacud Crokes GAA Kilmacud Crokes GAA / Twitter Kilmacud Crokes GAA / Twitter / Twitter

Rutledge can certainly attest to that, having endured a torrid few months on the comeback trail since her harrowing concussion struggle began last September.

A knock to the head in the dying minutes of her club’s senior county final defeat to Foxrock-Cabinteely started a horrific sequence.

“Now that wasn’t really a full concussion,” she explains, “but then in training 10 days or a week later, I got another smack to the head and it was like a second-impact concussion.

“I did my two weeks return-to-play set out by the LGFA. That went well and I got back. Then we had our first friendly before championship last year started, in October. We played Cork and I clashed heads with someone again.

“Then it was post-concussion syndrome where it went on, really bad headaches until maybe December.”

A ceasefire came as Christmas approached, and into January with training at a standstill.

When things started back up again, small problems began to arise.

“Towards the end of February, start of March, I got a bit of running to do with my club. I was doing that and I was fine, the odd day I might get a bit of a headache; once a week or something, but it wasn’t that bad.

“Then we got individual training to do with Dublin as well. I was just running at a local pitch and that was fine, I had no issues. Then we went back to team training in April, and the intensity was a bit higher and a bit harder.

“I had been doing straight line running so I hadn’t even thought about having to keep turning my head and hadn’t really had any issues at the start of this year. Then it was just constant headaches, I didn’t get another bang or anything like that it was just constant headaches. So I just stopped completely.”

kate-fitzgibbon-celebrates-after-the-game-with-aoife-kane-and-eabha-rutledge Celebrating the 2018 All-Ireland win with Aoife Kane and Kate Fitzgibbon. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

She even stopped going to watch training because keeping an eye on team-mates while chatting to others was irritating her and ultimately triggering headaches.

From seeing consultants and specialists, to physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists, it’s been an arduous few weeks and months.

Simple daily fixes, rest, treatment, shoulder and neck rehabilitation, eye-tracking exercises, Omega 3 tablets, creatine, medication, and even botox into the scalp and back of the neck as overseen by a professor in Beaumont Hospital; you name it, she’s tried it.

One of the latter two certainly helped the constant headaches, she believes, as continues to take things step-by-step with the unwavering support of the Dublin backroom team.

“Finally the headaches have cleared up and I’m building back up, building up my strength, doing bits of running and jogging, and just trying to build on everything now,” she nods.

“Everyone is saying, ‘It’s not just like a hamstring, you need your brain for the rest of your life.’ I suppose you have to be a bit more careful with it.

“But hopefully I’m getting there now. I definitely think I turned a corner there recently enough and getting back to full, contact training soon is the plan.”

Recovery from concussion is a long and slow process. It is a brain injury, after all.

The scary thing is you don’t know how it will impact you until it happens, so many people who haven’t sustained one don’t fully understand.

It’s not a visible or physical injury, so it can be hard to grasp. All involved in the Dublin set-up have been fantastic, though.

“Thankfully Mick [Bohan] and the rest of the management team have been really understanding and they just want to be so careful.

“That’s why he put me in the transitional development group for now, so that there’s no pressure on me to get back quickly. He keeps saying once I get back training to go back to the squad. But for now, he just wants me to get back to full health.

“He’s been really understanding and really helpful, I’ve no complaints for what he’s doing. You want to be careful with your head, you can’t really take any chances.”

Image from iOS (1) Great Grip Gloves / Éabha Rutledge. Great Grip Gloves / Éabha Rutledge. / Éabha Rutledge.

Undoubtedly frustrated, Rutledge has used some of her free time for the better over the past few months, setting up a dry weather GAA gloves company.

The idea behind Great Grip Gloves goes right back to a J1 in Chicago during the summer of 2017 when she lined out with Aisling Gaels. Having always worn standard foam football gloves all year around, the heat turned her off doing so Stateside.

“I found they were so heavy, and they weren’t giving me any benefit at all,” she recalls, the solution found as she came across a pair used in American Football. Rutledge went on to use them every summer since and recently wanted to replace them, though, understandably, she couldn’t get a new pair this side of the Atlantic.

“I decided then to design and adapt a new pair that would be fitting for GAA and LGFA, kind of based of the ones I had,” she explains.

“What makes the gloves different than the normal, standard GAA gloves? The texture on the palm; it gives a flat surface and basically, with the materials, gives a pull  that reduces the backspin receiving the ball and makes it easier to catch.

“Also on the fingertip, there’s more material there that helps with control, if you’re going for a high catch. Like traditional gloves, it has benefits in the specific way. There’s a bit of science behind it, with studies done.”

It’s been a successful venture so far, with co-partner, CJ O’Higgins, the other founder, as they balance Great Grip Gloves commitments with work.

With several inter-county players such as Monaghan’s Muireann Atkinson and Limerick’s Andrea O’Sullivan donning the gloves over the past few weeks, the feedback, stats and uptake have been great, as has the debate on social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok.

Image from iOS Great Grip Gloves / Éabha Rutledge. Great Grip Gloves / Éabha Rutledge. / Éabha Rutledge.

“It’s brilliant, they seem to be going well,” she smiles. “Anyone who is wearing them seems to love them, but it’s trying to change the minds of those that are very traditional.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘Sure if it’s dry weather, you don’t need gloves,’ whereas I can’t play without them and there are certain people like that. I feel like they give me such an added benefit and protection.

“We did loads of catching with gloves, without gloves, testing them out and it was like a 20% better ratio for when you’re catching the balls and stuff like that. They definitely do work but it’s changing the minds of those that think barehand is better than gloves.”

She adds: “We want people to be able to wear them and not even realise that they’re wearing the gloves — and kind of give people a bit more confidence.

“With the mark coming in in GAA, there’s a lot of emphasis put on high ball, high catches and clean catches. The gloves will aid that obviously.

“It’s nice to have something to do in Covid times as well, a project. So far, so good.”

With everything falling into place nicely off the pitch, Rutledge is ready to get back on it.

Of course, there’s no time pressure on returning. Her health is the main thing, but she’s motivated to get back to enjoying football with a smile on her face, picking up where she left off after her impressive Dublin breakthrough.

Reflecting on an incredible few years with a phenomenal group, from the fringes to pocketing a Celtic Cross after a key positional switch from the forward line to defence, Rutledge concludes:

“I made my championship debut in 2019, in the Leinster final. A goal of mine was always just to play in the All-Ireland final. I then played the September in the All-Ireland final and that was brilliant. That was a dream come true.

“I was kind of hoping in 2020, to try and push on again but obviously, the concussions and stuff happened. Still just being involved with a group like that is brilliant. The girls, they’re also understanding. It’s nice to be able to go to training and do your rehab and do your running and still be part of a group.

“You see some of your teammates more than you might see some of your friends and family if you’re with them three to four times a week. You do build such a friendship with everyone so it is nice to even get to go training and see your friends and talk and different things like that.

“Hopefully now, if I don’t push on this year, next year again, try and get back training and get back playing again. That’s the goal.”

That it is, and she’ll again keenly watch on as her Dublin side, the four-in-a-row All-Ireland champions, face Waterford this afternoon.

You can find out more about Great Grip Gloves here >

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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