John Clarke, who guided NUI Galway to two Collingwood Cup victories in the 90s, believes football coaches need to be extremely diligent when dealing with heading in the game.
A landmark study published by Glasgow University in 2019 following 22 months of research confirmed a link between the sport and brain damage.
Clarke reckons that there will be a surge in dementia cases in retired footballers. “You think of players who spent their whole careers heading the ball,” Clarke says.
“You can see it with top players from 15 or 20 years ago, I think it could be ready to explode really when you think about it.
“I think you could have huge numbers coming unfortunately. I played football using the old footballs, the old heavy ones with laces, that sort of stuff.”
Derry native Clarke is adamant about the need to train teams in a correct manner. “I spend time in Spain and I go to watch teams training and everything is on the deck,” Clarke comments.
“When I go to Spain the city I stay in play in the Spanish third level and everything is done on the deck. At the end of the day the name of the game is football.
“The style of play there is generally played with the feet, they keep it down because they know once it goes up high it gives the other player competing against you an advantage. He can see you and generally you don't see him. It has a lot to do with styles of play.”
It is critical to establish a progressive philosophy with Clarke citing the Spanish model as an example.
“The game started out as a game of football,” Clarke states. “In Derry we used to play a lot of indoor football where the ball was never allowed to go above your shoulder. Things like that might help.
“The style of play being implemented by some at the minute is anti heading in the sense that it is more on the ground. I looked things up and I found a report done by Glasgow University on Scottish, English, and Welsh players.
“I looked up Spanish websites looking for any mention of it in the Spanish ones and all I could really find was the Glasgow University one translated.
“Maybe the Spanish haven't got around to doing any significant work on it yet, but when you look at the way the Spanish play, it is all on the deck.
“There is very little to do with heading. Maybe there was at one time when a great Real Madrid team would have competed against you in the air.
“Now they are more true to themselves with the ball at their feet. I couldn't find any major research done by them, I found the Scottish report translated into Spanish.”
John ‘Jobby’ Crossan was a hero for so many growing up in Derry with Clarke lauding his career. Now, though, Crossan remains an important figure Foyleside assisting former colleagues.
“Jobby captained Manchester City, he played with Middlesbrough, Standard Liege, and Sparta Rotterdam, he has a sports goods shop in Derry,” Clarke says.
“In that sports shop eight or nine guys come in most days - since the virus came in it has put a block on a lot of it - they all come to sit. Jobby gets them tea, they talk.
“He should be on a retainer from the health services because you've seven or eight guys sitting talking, some of them in better shape than others.
“That was something happening in Derry, it created a bit of awareness amongst the families of guys suffering. A lot of them would have played with or against Jobby, who is 82 now.”
Clarke enjoyed a productive stint in charge of NUI Galway when Collingwood and Connacht Senior League honours were gleaned.
The Connacht Senior League assisted many footballers develop into League of Ireland performers and is sadly missed by many, including Clarke, in the west.
“I agree 100 per cent because any team that ever won the Connacht Senior League if they were from around Galway lost at least five players to Galway United,” Clarke recalls.
“You think about Sean O'Neill, Kieran Foley they all did well after the Connacht Senior League. It was a terrible thing when it went.”