Team Doctor Colm McCarthy sat down for a chat with Jamie Moore
Colm McCarthy became our team doctor at the start of this season. He’s 31 and grew up in Lusk in North County Dublin. He was always interested in sport and played football and tennis but his main competitive sport up until the age of 18 was athletics. He found it hard to keep up the commitment when he started college so played Superleague in UCD and played for St. Vincent’s Hospital in the LSL for five years before a knee injury three years ago. Triathlon is now his main sporting focus.
So why medicine? “Around age 15 I started to get interested in how the human body worked, and especially sports injuries and so I started thinking about medicine or physio. I was interested in everything about the body so the more time went on the more I gravitated towards doing medicine.”
Colm spent six years studying for his degree at UCD then spent a year working as an intern in a hospital working 80 hour weeks, night shifts etc. After that he was signed off as a doctor, but his training didn’t stop there.
“I went working in Australia for a year in A&E ‘for a break’ before I started my GP training. That was another four years of working in different hospitals and GP practices, and doing more exams. After that I did what I had wanted to do for years and got a place on the Trinity Sports Medicine Masters course, which I am just finished. I'm going to give exams a rest for a bit now!”
As well as studying for his masters and working as a sports doctor, Colm also works part time as a GP in Suffolk Street.
Working as a sports doctor is a little different to being a GP and Colm has worked in orthopaedics and rheumatology in hospitals which was a good base in similar injuries and treatments, and also has a masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine from Trinity College.
So what exactly is in a sports doctor’s kit bag? “I have two bags, one with more ‘medical’ stuff like stethoscope, pen torch, fundoscope (for the eyes), suture kit, medications, syringes etc. and another with wound stuff like dressings, splints, wound pads, slings etc, and of course, magic spray - which I have never actually used. There is always a defibrillator pitchside, along with spinal boards and collars, oxygen etc. in the ambulance.”
Last season we looked on in horror and then happiness as Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch, his heart stopped for 78 minutes but was restarted by medics. Colm, like all doctors, has similar life saving training.
“As an A&E and hospital doctor I would have been trained in Cardiac Resucitation along with other emergency procedures, and as a GP in out-of-hospital emergency care. Each year I attend a refresher course in cardiac life support including mock scenarios etc. I also did a course in pitchside trauma in the last year.”
“I've had guys with breathing difficulties and fainting on the pitch after collisions which necessitated going through the emergency type protocol, but thankfully I've never had to use the defib in a sports setting.”
Colm likes to think he’s cool, with his bag of tricks and life saving training, but he told me a story which calls this into question.
“It was Wicklow vs. Waterford this year. A Wicklow player got an elbow in the mouth just before half time and was bleeding and screaming that he'd had 2 teeth knocked out. Sure enough there was a tooth completely missing. While the match continued on at the other end of the pitch I was searching on the ground for his tooth, and then at half time I called the subs on to help me search for this tooth- (you can save the tooth if you find it in time) as 7,000 people looked on in amusement. I discovered after the game that that tooth was missing for years and that no tooth had actually been lost that day. The incident was mentioned in all the match reports in the following day's papers and started a thread on twitter #findseaniestooth. This is the first time I've admitted the tooth was actually not lost.”
As well as being on call pitch side during games, Colm has a major hand in dealing with the treatment and rehab of players with long term injuries.
“Chronic injuries are the hardest to deal with. The players are understandably frustrated and often there is no quick fix. Also the fact that most UCD players are at the beginning of their careers means it makes more sense to treat the cause and prevent recurrences in the future than to go for more drastic measures that might be ok for a 32 year old trying to salvage another season or two.”
“Sometimes interventions like injections or procedures can help the recovery process and when these are necessary the club are very supportive. Scans can be helpful when a diagnosis is unclear, or if we need to confirm something to decide on treatment. We are lucky to be able to get scans quickly when necessary, and likewise if procedures or visits to a specialist are needed, consultants will often see the lads quickly because they understand the pressures of the game. Joe Conway is also very generous with his time in helping out UCD players when necessary.”
In the Airtricity League the home team doctor is also on call for the away teams but Colm doesn’t mind.
“My main focus is the UCD players but I've treated a broken wrist, a lacerated knee, a concussion and a suspected fracture on opposition teams in the last few months. The UCD lads seem to get into less trouble on the pitch!”
Working at a professional football club means Dr Colm works on a daily basis with physios, coaches and manager Martin Russell.
“Dave Clancy and Colm Brannigan the physios do the bulk of the injury treatment with the players and so I respect their opinions on things and rely on them to let me know if they think a player is not progressing as they should, or needs further investigation. It's good to be able to discuss player injuries from slightly different perspectives. Martin and the coaches are all sound. I admire the type of football they encourage at UCD, and the attitude they instill in the players - to be the best they can be and to show their skills. Even when things don't look great in the table the attitude is positive which I think is very important to get the best out of people.”
With eight games left this season, UCD sit one point above bottom side Dundalk but Colm is as confident as everyone else that the club will remain in the Premier Division.
“I think we will stay up. We are capable of beating any team in the league and if we get a few good results from the remaining games we can do it. The lads and the management deserve it.”