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How Caelan Doris found 'peace of mind' after his concussion issues

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by PA)

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Ireland back-rower Calean Doris has reflected on how he went from a concussion nightmare at the start of 2021 to finish the year getting voted as the Autumn Nations Series player of the tournament. It was February 2 when the IRFU announced that the forward had pulled out of Andy Farrell’s squad for a Six Nations campaign that was starting with an away assignment in Wales.

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Caelan has flagged some symptoms that could be associated with concussion,” read a statement at the time. “He has returned to Leinster to allow his symptoms to be appropriately assessed and investigated.”

Having had a previous history of concussions, a lengthy break was recommended. It wasn’t until mid-April that he got back into the Leinster and even then there was a sting in the tail, a calf injury during a captain’s run scratching him from the team to play Munster in the Rainbow Cup and delaying his comeback another month before he got back versus Ulster.  

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Since then, though, the 23-year-old Doris has accelerated through the gears, re-establishing himself at his province and taking his career to a new level with Ireland where he was at the forefront of the compelling November victory over the All Blacks.  

With the 2022 Six Nations now on the horizon, Doris took time out this week to appear as a guest on The Rugby Pod, reflecting on his eventful 2021 and explaining how a scrum cap is helping to give him some added protection. He also had a message to any rugby player suffering from concussive symptoms – don’t delay in getting your issue checked out.

“I have no affiliation with the company but I’m enjoying the scrum cap,” explained Doris, fresh from last Sunday’s record European win with Leinster. “It’s N-Pro, an Irish company based out of Galway, and they have done some studies. It’s a particular fabric that is shown to reduce force, it sort of disperses the force across the scrum cap which is different to other scrum caps. 

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“A fair few studies have shown that it can help with blows to the head and reduce the chances of getting concussed. A lot of concussions are the whiplash effect so it is not going to do much for that but sort of blunt forces to the head, I have found it useful anyway although it hasn’t stopped me from getting my face battered over the last few weeks. But no, I like it.”

Looking back on how his worrying concussion issues were dealt with, Doris, the ten-cap Ireland pick, was delighted with the level of care he received despite his anxiety. “It [care] is definitely moving in the right direction… the thing needs to be taken pretty seriously and it is being done so for the most part. I was incredibly happy with how I was looked after. 

“I was getting increasingly worried and worried about some symptoms that I have spoken about before. They are heightened by the anxiety around it all… am I hyper-vigilant and noticing it more or is it actually happening, so the anxiety around it was definitely tied into it heavily for me. 

“Taking a break and being looked after by all the best people and having baselines across the board, going forward now it gives me much more peace of mind. I know we obviously have baselines at the start of each season but potentially more comprehensive ones going forward could be an area for development. Even just having conversations about it more and sort of not treating it as any other injury is going to be beneficial as well, just open communication and dialogue around it. 

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“It was tough. At the start, I was able to compartmentalise, I was enjoying the rugby and I was playing quite well and on a bit of an upward trajectory. I was able to hide it [concussive symptoms] and say I will be able to deal with it later if they keep going on or push it to the side. What I can say now, and what I can say with the benefit of hindsight, is if there is anyone going through something similar just get it checked at the very start. 

“The likelihood is you are going to be fine, maybe take a little break and you will be absolutely grand. The opposite of letting it build up and build up potentially you could do some damage and there might be bigger repercussions. So get it checked while it is a smaller issue.”

Getting peace of mind about his own situation was a gamechanger for Doris as he emerged as a star of the unbeaten Ireland November campaign. “It was cool. The whole Autumn Nations, the camp, all the games, I loved all of it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and that was partly due to the rough start to the year I had. 

“Being capped off with being named player of the tournament as well, it was nice although I think the whole of my hometown Ballina voted for me so it was probably skewed a little bit but I’ll take it.”   

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