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Healy's ordeal shows up familiar shortcomings

W hen London hurler Niall Healy travelled to Derry last weekend for a National Hurling League game, he didn't expect to be left in the city alone with a broken collarbone and no assistance from his county or the county he was playing in, but that's what happened.

Injured after 15 minutes of the Division 3A game in Banagher, Healy left the field immediately and was advised by London's sports therapist that he needed to get to a hospital.

When the injured player approached the Derry officials to inquire about an ambulance, they directed him to the dressing rooms -- across two pitches -- and told him to ask an official there.

When he met the official, Healy was asked if he was sure he needed the service, he insisted he did and the official left to make the call. He returned five minutes later and said he couldn't get through to the ambulance service.

Healy once again stated that his collarbone was broken and, for the third time since he sustained the injury, asked for an ambulance. The ambulance arrived after 20 minutes and Healy travelled to the hospital alone. After four hours in Accident & Emergency, he went for an X-ray to confirm the broken bone.

By this stage the London hurling team had returned home, leaving their injured player alone in the hospital in Derry.

Although both counties made phone calls to inquire about his welfare, no member of the management or backroom staff from either team went to the hospital to see if Healy was okay. Healy got a taxi to a hotel and stayed there for the night. The only person who showed any concern for the hurler was Derry player Ruairi Convery, who contacted Healy and offered to visit him in the hospital.

"What really disappointed me was Derry failed to provide a stretcher, failed to provide a doctor and they failed to provide an ambulance. They showed total disregard for my injury and were condescending in the way they treated me," said Healy.

"But the most worrying thing is that if one of the players out there had suffered a serious neck, spinal or head injury, there was no medical facilities present at all," he added.

Derry County Board secretary Liam Peoples conceded that it was an oversight on their behalf not to have an ambulance at the game but claimed that Healy's account of what happened is inaccurate.

"The hospital is ten miles from the venue so the ambulance was there ten minutes of after we phoned for it. The request for the ambulance came at half-time and by five minutes into the second half it was away to the hospital," said Peoples.

"I called the hospital myself that evening because I wanted to see that the injured player was okay. I was concerned that he had missed his flight." he added.

On Monday, Healy returned to London. He was picked up from the airport by a member of Robert Emmets GAA club, not someone from the London County board.

And while here in Ireland the county more often than not comes before club, in London the opposite is the case.

"When we get someone a job and accommodation, we expect them to commit to the club, it's just the nature of the beast," said former London hurling manager Mick O'Dea

The reality of the situation is that London hurling and football is not an appealing prospect for Irish people living in the city. Those involved in the club scene are put off lining out for the county because of tales of problems with expenses and poor medical care.

"You have ongoing problems with players' expenses in London. A lot of them weren't getting paid and those who were didn't get the proper amount and were not given any explanation as to why this was happening. Those things turn players off," explained Noel Dunning, former London football manager.

Until last year there were no ambulances present at London's home games and the GAA's universal insurance scheme didn't extend to cover their county players.

"There always was an insurance scheme, but it wasn't like the one in Ireland, it was only an income replacement scheme and it only paid out £200 after the first two weeks you were off. That simply wasn't enough for people living in London," added Dunning.

Although London clubs are being inundated with players transferring, the county teams are not seeing the benefits. Many decent hurlers and footballers who live and work in the city have little interest in playing for London GAA.

"Players don't see London as an attractive proposition because of the level they play at," said Dunning. "And looking at historical results it's hard to see them making a breakthrough. But if you got every player living in London who is at the required level to commit to the county, then we would see an upturn in London's fortunes."

Dunning and O'Dea are now involved in Kingdom Kerry Gaels and Robert Emmets respectively. From being on the ground at club level they see the players coming through and both feel that now is the perfect opportunity for a London team to make a breakthrough. The influx of players contacting the clubs is showing no signs of relenting and there is plenty of work to go around.

And while London, with its proximity to home, employment prospects and thriving local club scene, is ticking all the boxes for people forced to emigrate, it's still lacking an inter-county set-up that is on a par with its counterparts in Ireland.

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