The player is central to the GAA and all its activities. The skill and dedication of our players at all levels have captured the imagination of the public since the founding of the GAA and have been fundamental to the on-going success of the Association. The welfare of players is therefore of paramount importance to the GAA and its future success. During the development of the GAA’s Strategic Plan and Vision 2009-15, a key objective was the enhancement of the experience of all our players within the Association. Among the key areas of player welfare focus in the GAA are:
1) Support for injured players through the Player Injury Scheme
2) Injury prevention and recovery
3) Best practice training and team preparation
4) Education on nutrition
5) Introducing practical initiatives to promote safety and well-being, e.g. compulsory wearing of helmets in hurling, forthcoming introduction of compulsory wearing of mouthguards in football, supply of defibrillators
6) Monitoring and investigating medical and scientific research for new initiatives to benefit players
7) Ensuring best practice injury treatment in a cost effective manner for players, clubs and counties
8) Ensuring compliance with Anti-Doping requirements through education and monitoring
Before his appointment as Ard Stiuirthóir, Páraic Duffy was the GAA’s Player Welfare Manager. This commitment to dedicating full-time resource to player welfare continues. Feargal McGill is Head of Games Administration and Player Welfare and Ruairí Harvey is Player Welfare Administrator. They work with the Association’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee, which is comprised of medical professionals, players and administrators, to ensure that player welfare matters are kept to the forefront of priorities within the GAA. The primary responsibility of the Medical, Scientific and Welfare committee is to advise the Association on medical and general welfare matters relevant to our games and to drive Association policy in these areas.
Current initiatives being undertaken on the player welfare front include:
~ Continued support for the Injury Database and Surveillance programme which is administered in UCD by John Murphy and Dr. Catherine Blake. The collection of data for this programme is centred on inter-county hurling and football teams providing injury information. There are 16 teams between both codes providing information at present and it is planned to increase this. Apart from the information on injuries, this programme has identified ways to prevent injury and it is planned in 2013 to roll out a GAA specific warm-up regime that will help prevent lower limb injuries.
~ The ‘Medical Emergency Bags for County Grounds’ initiative allows the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) to standardise the emergency medical equipment available in all primary County grounds and is part of a long-term project for the Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee to improve the standard of medical equipment and facilities at County grounds. It is planned to have these new standardised medical bags rolled out to each primary county ground in all counties in the coming months.
~ Preparation for the compulsory introduction of mouthguards in football from January 1st 2013 for all under 18 players and from January 1st 2014 for all over 18 players.
~ Programme to maintain and service defibrillators purchased through the GAA defibrillator scheme.
Finding out what players welfare needs are is of critical importance in planning welfare initiatives. The Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee plans to survey a representative sample of players nationally in the coming months to get their input in preparing plans for the next couple of years. It will also seek feedback from counties where player forums are held.
Players deriving enjoyment from their participation in Gaelic Games is hugely important. Sometimes the enjoyment factor can be forgotten in the will to win, the desire to train harder than others, and the need to adjust family and work life to fit in with what can too often be unpredictable fixtures plans. These areas are a challenge for the organisation as a whole but are a priority from a welfare perspective.
Longevity is also important for players. Ensuring players can have a long career with minimal injury disruption is crucial and we need to look at the often unrealistic expectations we have of underage players to play multiple grades, multiple codes and in cases of elite players with club, colleges and county teams.
Communications and access to information are essential to addressing player welfare. The GAA has a player welfare section on its website but this will be upgraded during the coming year. There will also be a move towards more video based dissemination of information that, for example, will allow players to play injury prevention video clips on smartphones. The aim is to get information directly to players in a manner they find easily accessible and not to rely on others to get it to them.
Sometimes player welfare is seen as something important for inter-county players alone. Inter-county players are of course very important but by and large, through the good work of many at county and national level and of course the GPA, their welfare is taken care of to a high standard. Welfare for club players must be equally important and focussing on it will be important in terms of building and maintaining loyalty of players and their families to the GAA.
The GAA can be proud of its overall record looking after its players. Of course there is room for improvement. Of course, it must continue to learn and develop new welfare initiatives as new challenges emerge. And it will do that.
Ger Ryan, Chairman, GAA Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee