GAA counting cost of injuries
Cruciate knee ligament damage, which has become increasingly common in recent years, is now occurring at an unprecedented average rate of 39 per month in Gaelic football and hurling.
A serious injury which leaves players sidelined for several months, it is the third most common injury on an extensive list which cost the GAA €8m in insurance pay-outs last year.
Since the inter-county season tapers off from late July on, closing altogether for November-December, and club activity is quite restricted in December and January, it's certain that the cruciate damage rate is running well above the 39-per-month average during the busiest periods of the year.
The reason for the surge in cruciate injuries remains largely unexplained and, by extension, difficult to guard against. Henry Shefflin and Dermot Earley are among the high-profile players who have twice suffered cruciate injuries.
A total of 470 cruciate cases qualified for payment under the Players' Injury Scheme last year. Figures for 2010 showed 152 claims paid for cruciate damage but the GAA's insurance manager Sinead Quinn explained that the number would have been higher as some cases were classified under 'other knee injury' headings.
However, all cruciate injuries were under the one category last year. The 2011 injury pay-out list was topped by knee problems (excluding cruciate) on 1,305, followed by shoulder (525). Cruciate (470) came next, followed by thigh (419), ankle (416), teeth (377), leg (333), finger (258), back (214), hand (189) and thumb (138).
The prevalence of cruciate damage in Gaelic games continues to baffle experts as there is no clear underlying reason for the increase. Of the 470 cases dealt with under the Players' Injury Scheme last year, the football-hurling split was 319-151. Despite that, there's no evidence to suggest that the problem is proportionately greater in football than hurling, as football has almost twice as many teams.
However, there was a massive difference last year in the split between adult and youth activity, with the former experiencing all except six of the 470 injuries.
It's unclear why there has been such a surge in cruciate problems but former Dublin player/manager Dr Pat O'Neill suspects it could be linked to pitches, footwear and the type of training players are undertaking. One of the country's foremost experts on sports injuries, Dr O'Neill says that those are aspects which may offer a clue as to why cruciate injuries have increased.
"There's no particular science to back up that view but these are factors which have changed over the years so they are worth looking at," he said.
He welcomed the more detailed breakdown of injuries provided by the GAA as the statistics are useful in devising an injury prevention strategy.
"If we're having a problem with cruciate, groin or whatever, let's look at the stats and work from there," he said. "There's a good bit of work going on with injury surveillance, which is important."
Cruciate damage is not an over-use injury but the area continues to raise challenges for the GAA. Dr O'Neill presented a rather stark assessment of the background to over-use injuries a few years ago and while he says the problem hasn't got any worse, it was starting from a critical position.
"I'd describe it as having reached a plateau," he said. "The problem hasn't accelerated but there's no significant reduction either and since it was at a critical level to start with, it's clear there's a long way to go."
A total of 5,992 claims cost the GAA's Players' Injury Scheme €8m last year. Both the number of claims and the pay-out were down marginally on 2010.
One significant area of decrease over the last two years has been in facial injuries sustained in hurling, which is attributable to the compulsory wearing of helmets for all players since the start of 2010.
In 2009, payments were made to 34 adult hurlers for facial claims but dropped to 11 and 10 respectively over the last two years. There were 134 payments for teeth injuries sustained in hurling during 2009, three more than the combined total for the last two years.
Significantly, there were proportionately more facial injuries in football than hurling last year. Groin, knee (excluding cruciate), shoulder, ankle, collarbone and foot were other areas where football had a higher proportion of injuries.
The groin differential was the widest of all, splitting 81-19pc towards football. And while there are approximately twice as many football as hurling teams, the ratio shows football claims for groin problems much higher proportionately than hurling.
With claims costs running at almost €154,000 per week, the GAA are keen to improve on the preventative side so that fewer players get injured, leading to fewer pay-outs.
As part of a new initiative, one club from every county will be offered specialist screening for up to 32 players this year. It will be designed so that the information gathered can be used to provide data of a general nature for other clubs. The clubs to benefit will be drawn from those whose insurance arrangements were up to date at a specified time.
It's also planned to provide refunds later in the year for counties whose insurance premiums for 2012 exceed their claims for 2011.
"It will be done on a proportionate basis. We're trying to get the message out that the less claims you have, the cheaper your insurance will be," said Quinn.
She also revealed that the number of claims being made by GAA members who suffered injury while playing other sports had dropped. This was regarded as a serious problem some years ago but she said it was no longer the case to any great degree.
"Local clubs are good at monitoring that," Quinn said. "They are the ones paying the premiums so they're as keen as everybody else to make sure that only legitimate claims are made."
The GAA's injury scheme is funded by premiums paid by clubs and counties, plus a percentage of inter-county gate receipts.