“This is a huge issue, particularly in the times we are living in and the financial strain that is going to be on a lot of young players and young families at this time,” said Liam Kenny, the forcefulness of his point in no way lessened by the virtual platform on which it was delivered.
Speaking during Tuesday’s Cork County Board meeting, the Kilworth GAA chairman was addressing the fact the GAA’s player injury fund will not cover loss of wages in 2021.
The player injury fund, in existence since 1929, provides benefit cover against serious injuries. But with the fund having run a loss for a number of years now and in the absence of gate receipts to make up last year’s almost €1m deficit or this year’s forecast €2m deficit, clubs were informed by Croke Park on December 1 that “it is proposed to temporarily pause the ‘loss of wages’ cover contained within the policy benefits covered under the existing scheme”.
In his annual report released last month, the GAA’s finance director Ger Mulryan said this pause will save the fund approximately €1.3m per annum.
“It is hoped that this benefit can and will be restored when future funding permits,” he added.
Prior to 2021, players who suffered an injury in the course of GAA activity which resulted in them having to take time off work were covered, through the fund, for up to €300 per week for a maximum of 26 weeks.
Kilworth and Carrigtwohill GAA clubs both made contact with Cork County Board secretary Kevin O’Donovan last month to query this indefinite pausing of cover for loss of wages. Their concerns were raised at the Central Council meeting on the weekend of Congress by Tracey Kennedy.
The abbreviated version of the response received by Kennedy from Ger Mulryan was that the fund, which is not an insurance scheme and thus can only pay out what it takes in, doesn’t have the money at present to cover loss of earnings.
While the GAA has always stressed that each player ensure they have adequate cover in place to meet their own needs and personal circumstances, it is understood that 30% of annual claims made to the fund were to cover loss of earnings.
Carrigtwohill and Kilworth want the pause lifted, their calls backed by members of the county board’s top table.
Cork, it would seem by the tone of Tuesday’s meeting, will not allow the issue drift. Indeed, the removal of cover for loss of wages featured prominently during Wednesday’s East Cork board meeting, with clubs unanimous that the removal of wage cover be fought.
“I understand the losses Croke Park have incurred over the last year, but just hugely concerned, not just for my own club, but for clubs around the county and country that the players may have to opt out at the start of the year when clubs will have to sit down and tell players that their loss of earnings are not covered going forward if they are out of work through injuries they can sustain in a hurling or football game,” said Carrigtwohill chairman Peter Hogan.
“Hopefully, [the GAA] might be in some state during the course of the year that money might come from somewhere or maybe some place might have to take a hit. People, as Liam [Kenny] said, with mortgages and young families, they may have to give up their pastime over this loss of earnings.”
Kilworth chairman Kenny urged Cork to fight for restoration of loss of wages cover.
“I think a lot of clubs might have missed this. I don’t think this is a small issue at all. It is something we should really go back strongly — and united — against. Player welfare has to be at the heart of the association. We should go back very, very strongly and not just sit back in a placid way.”
Freemount’s John O’Flynn said the GAA must consider partnering with an insurance company and making available to players “a personal insurance policy”. “The players may have to make an additional contribution, but if the GAA was to do some scheme with an insurance company, and because it was a group scheme, it should be more cost effective and at least players would have an option of taking out their own insurance to cover their loss of earnings. The way it is structured, the GAA are just turning their back on this loss of earnings issue.”
While acknowledging the GAA’s constrained financial position, county board chairman Marc Sheehan said the loss of wages cover was an issue “we need to take to the highest level of the association and to have it rectified, if at all possible”.
Cork’s Central Council delegate Tracey Kennedy recommended contact be made with other counties for their support on the subject as no other Central Council delegate “commented on” or “supported” her query at the Congress weekend Central Council meeting. She also pointed out that only one other county raised the issue on the virtual floor of Congress.
“If we are going to push it, it would be good to get support from other counties.”