07 Jul 2022

GAA's eight-month silence on County Derry man's career-ending injury

The Association have not been in contact with Niall since September 2021.

GAA's eight-month silence on County Derry man's career-ending injury

Niall pictured with his family.

The wife of a County Derry GAA player who has been left disabled after a career-ending knee injury has hit out at the GAA's lack of communication over a potential injury claim.

Kerri Bradley's husband Niall sustained the injury while playing for Greenlough in a Derry football league game against Kilrea on May 30 2021.

His injury was so severe that the NI Air Ambulance was required to transfer him to hospital, where he later needed surgery to completely reconstruct his knee.

At the time of the incident, the GAA had paused the loss-of-earnings aspect of their Player Injury Fund in response to financial difficulties arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme resumed on June 1 2021, just two days after the injury.

Niall's club Greenlough then wrote a letter to the GAA's Injury Fund Manager appealing for them to use their 'discretion' to cover a portion of his loss in earnings.

However, a GAA response seen by the County Derry Post said players 'accept the risks' that participation in sport brings and that they had 'no legal obligation' to provide their Player Injury Fund.

They said they were 'unable to consider the payment of Niall's loss of wages claim'.

“The response above may not be the one that the club were hoping for but the financial challenges that the Association has faced since the onset of Covid has been well documented,” they said.

“The impact on the GAA Injury Benefit Fund has been communicated with the absence of gate receipts and in that regards, where we would have previously been able to give some consideration and assistance to claims that fall outside the terms of the Fund, we are not now in a position to do so.”

After receiving the letter on September 23 2021, the club sent a response on October 28 2021 seeking clarity on a number of the points raised.

In the correspondence, seen by the County Derry Post, they raised concerns over the communication of the scheme's suspension and inaccurate details of the scheme posted online.

Niall putting a brave face on in the aftermath of his injury.

They also said the timing of the cover's suspension had disadvantaged players in Northern Ireland, whose Covid guidelines allowed them to return to play before their colleagues in the South.

Greenlough argued that the GAA permitting activity in the North without adequate loss-of-earnings cover in place meant members in NI were 'unfairly impacted'.

The scale of the injury, the operation and the long-term damage caused was also detailed in the letter, including the strain on the 35-year-old's mental health.

“Niall has played senior football for his club for 19 years, he has represented his County, has coached and has been an ambassador for the GAA in many ways,” they said.

“Niall suffered the accident during his first league game of 2021, paramedics and the air ambulance medics had to sedate Niall at the scene and work on his leg in order to save it from being amputated.

“He was air lifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he stayed for a week. He had to undergo a lengthy surgery lasting 4 – 5 hours long on Friday 4 June 2021.

“This surgery was a full reconstruction of his knee, not his knee cap, his knee and it also impacted the rest of his leg, including nerve damage.

“Niall did not claim off the GAA for the specialist surgery he received. Had he received private medical care he would be in a position to apply through the Players Injury Scheme for the substantial costs.

Last year, Niall's family held a fundraiser for Air Ambulance NI whose response to the injury was critical.

“The recent decision by the GAA has been very hard for Niall to accept and disappointing due to his dedication and advocacy of the GAA over the years.

“The GAA has a duty of care to look after the welfare of its members and GAA family. Due to the rejected claim this is having a severe impact on Niall’s mental health and his physical rehabilitation.”

Almost eight months on, they have not yet received a reply.

Niall's wife Kerri told the County Derry Post he was still unable to walk properly a year after the incident.

“Niall is still in pain, still on morphine, still unable to walk properly, is still attending the RV Hospital fortnightly, is still not back to work full time and won't be able to play sports again,” she said.

“There is still no response or progress from the GAA in respect of the Player Injury Fund.

“We see everyone and the GAA delighted and so supportive of the Derry players last week for example, but it is when you are at your most vulnerable you get your eyes opened. You see who supports you.

“Not being able to play again cuts his core, not being apart of the senior panel hurts. This was not a decision he made himself and he would still be there had this not happened.

Niall and his family with the Derry IFC trophy.

“My heart still breaks for him. To say he - and we as a family - have suffered this past year is an understatement.

“Everyone sees the nice social media posts with laughter and smiles but only a few check in and understand the true impact of his accident.

“The impact, not just financially but emotionally and physically too. Niall's accident has left him with a disability,

“However the GAA, instead of supporting this player on his 19th season of senior football, left him high and dry.

“There's an amazing side to the GAA and then there's this type of behaviour that gets me so annoyed and the GAA should take accountability.

“Thanks to Niall's employer for being so understanding and putting reasonable adjustments in place, so he can work 10 hours per week.

“Thanks to the air ambulance and the medics yet again. Most importantly thanks to our friends and family who have been there for us,” she added.

When contacted by the County Derry Post, the GAA said they were 'not in a position to comment on individual cases'.

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