A YOUNG Castlederg man is combining his passion of medicine with his love of sport by acting as a team doctor to one of the leading Betfred Super League rugby league teams in England.
Luke McMenamin, a former head boy at Omagh CBS, currently spends his weekends travelling all over the North of England or the South of France (Catalan Dragons) as team doctor to Wakefield Trinity.
During the week the Derg man works in the Leeds Major Trauma Centre but at the weekend he’s in the dressing room, prowling the sidelines or running onto the pitch to assess and treat injured players.
For Luke, who as a teenager was involved at Dergview Football Club, it’s something of a busman’s holiday but obviously one he takes very seriously.
“When I qualified I was approached to join Wakefield Trinity as part of their medical team,” he explained
“Initially I was involved with the academy but it’s mostly now with the first team. I look after players on match days, it’s largely weekend stuff although they usually try and have some of us in for a clinic once a week.
“Players would see a physio every day and there are always problems that need someone with a medical background.
“For games I travel all over the North (of England), up and down the M62 corridor from Wigan to Leeds or to the Catalan Dragons in the South of France. I go with the team, be involved in pre-match, seeing if there are any concussions that need reassessed that sort of thing.
“We liaise with physios in keeping an eye on players and that obviously includes during the game. As you can imagine there is a lot of high impact at speed. So there are a lot of calls surrounding the whole issue of concussion and since the bloodgate scandal (The Heineken Cup quarter-final between Harlequins and Leinster in 2009) a few seasons back everything is also scrutinised.
“In rugby league there has been massive progression on the whole concussion thing and when a player get a knock then that’s where I come in to assess and ultimately make the call.
“That’s the biggest part of the job. These are highly-paid professionals and I suppose you have to air on the side of caution but ultimately it comes down to your gut instinct whether you think a player can continue or not. Player safety is paramount and the whole issue of concussion rightly commands a lot of media attention. I would say that league is some way behind rugby union in that regard but we’re getting there.
“It’s important to build up trust with the physio team, the coaching staff and so on. You need a good working relationship and over the past 18 months while I have been there there has barely been a cross word with head coach Chris Chesters.. If I say this guy’s not going back on then that’s it.
“Then, of course, there is the bog standard stuff, the knocks, the breaks, the cuts.”
The North of England is unique to any other region of the UK in that it’s people have a burning passion for rugby league, they essentially live and breathe it.
Rugby union, even soccer barely gets a look in as week after week thousands pay good money to cheer on the likes of the Leeds Rhinos, Supoer League leaders Castleford Tigers, St Helens and the Wigan Warriors.
Within weeks of joining Wakefield, Luke got a real sense the importance of the 13-man game in the every day lives of the local population.
“In the North of England, in Yorkshire and Lancashire, it’s the bread and butter, it’s everything to these people,” added the North Tyrone man, who at the Brothers was classmates of Tyrone GAA stars Peter Harte and Tiernan McCann.
“You get a few rugby union clubs and some people interested in football but outside that it’s all rugby league.
“And it’s great for me to been involved, to get out onto the pitch. It’s nice to get my face out there and it’s a different kind of pressure to my day job.
“I have the best seat in the house, pitch side. I can walk up and down the side line, I can go onto the pitch when required to do so. I have access to all areas of the game, the players, the referees, the commissioners.
“And the great thing is you get the respect for who you are and what you do. Your voice is respected and that goes for the players as much as anyone else.”
Wakefield’s performances on the field have improved – they are currently 5th – since Luke joined them some 18 months ago. Whether that’s coincidence or otherwise is very much up for debate (!) however one thing’s for sure the man from the Derg is playing a crucial role in ensuring that player welfare is top of the agenda.
“In that regard, yeah I feel very much part of the team.”