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Dr Eanna Falvey: Lightweight boots play a huge part in players sustaining foot injuries

The Ireland and Lions team doctor reveals a senior Ireland rugby player had to give up a lucrative deal as his boots were leading to injuries.

Simon Zebo (broken foot) is helped off the pitch by Dr Eanna Falvey.
Simon Zebo (broken foot) is helped off the pitch by Dr Eanna Falvey.
Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

ALDO DUSCHER OF Deportivio la Coruna was branded ‘The Butcher’ when he left his studs in on David Beckham in 2002 and introduced most of the sporting world to the word ‘metatarsal’.

The Argentine had broken a bone in Beckham’s foot, two months before the World Cup in Japan and South Korea. For those two months, before the midfielder’s Lazarus-like recovery, football supporters became experts on an injury that had hitherto been a mystery to them.

In the 11 years since that fateful day at Old Trafford, metatarsal injuries have struck down John Terry, Gary Neville, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.

The curse of the brittle metatarsal, like a non-zoo snake, was uncommon in Ireland until more recent years. While Jonathan Sexton tore a tendon in his foot this season, a stress fracture ended Gordon D’Arcy’s Six Nations. Simon Zebo suffered a similar fate when he broke a metatarsal in the home defeat to England and left Lansdowne Road on crutches.

Dr Eanna Falvey, Ireland’s team medic, believes that the lightweight design of modern football and rugby boots, while leading to increased performance levels for players, may be leading to an increase of breakages and fractures.

Dr Falvey, currently in Australia on the British and Irish Lions Tour, told TheScore.ie, “Absolutely. Lightweight boots play a huge part in players sustaining foot injuries. If you look at boots today, they are plastic and weigh virtually nothing. There is very little shock absorbency.”

He points out that players prefer to wear the lighter boots as they do not hold water. Lighter feet, he says, equals faster feet. He commented:

They can be faster and more agile but they are potentially exposing themselves to injury. You’re pushing performance levels. That and injuries sometimes go hand in hand.

“The technology is out there to make the players lighter and more flexible but feet are like hands, and fingerprints. Everyone is different. Some players take to them well but others are not particularly suited to these new boots. You can’t veto these boots as everyone is different. What works for you may not work for me.”

Dr Falvey and his medical staff assist Jonny Sexton (hamstring) from the pitch. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

Dr Falvey says the IRFU, chiefly through video analyst Mervyn Murphy now has the technology to study an incident ‘from four or five angles to see how an injury has been picked up’. He adds that there is close consultation with the players to help prevent injuries and avoid repeats if a certain knock has been picked up. In the case of one Irish rugby player, who he refuses to name, a financial sacrifice had to be made for the greater good.

He told TheScore.ie, “One player, and this was recently enough, was picking up a lot of lower limb injuries. By changing his boots, we were able to avoid any more injuries being picked up but it did cost him a lucrative boot sponsorship deal. What cost him a boot contract was able to get him back a couple of years of rugby.”

Adidas, who supply boots to Irish players such as Sexton, Zebo and Brian O’Driscoll, were contacted for a comment but none was forthcoming.

Nike currently supply boots to only one player of the senior Irish set-up, Rob Kearney. A spokesperson for Nike told TheScore.ie that Kearney wears its Tiempo boot, which is heavier than the Mercurial boots preferred by many footballers such as Ronaldo and Neymar.

The spokesperson added, “Insight from players and ensuring that the design delivers multiple performance benefits is key to every product that Nike develops, and football boots are no exception. Every element of the design is informed by consultation and testing with elite athletes.”

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About the author:

Patrick McCarry

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