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Family ties bind doctor to Mayo

GRASSROOTS DAMIAN LAWLOR with DR FERGAL RUANE WITH so many family ties, Mayo team doctor Fergal Ruane was always destined to end up working with the county football squad. Brother, Brian, was a green and red stalwart for years, and cousin, Gary, played up to last season, starring in the 2004 All-Ireland final. The connection cuts even deeper, though, as Fergal is married to

GRASSROOTS DAMIAN LAWLOR with DR FERGAL RUANE WITH so many family ties, Mayo team doctor Fergal Ruane was always destined to end up working with the county football squad. Brother, Brian, was a green and red stalwart for years, and cousin, Gary, played up to last season, starring in the 2004 All-Ireland final. The connection cuts even deeper, though, as Fergal is married to Maria Healy, sister of Mayo's current goalkeeper, John.

"The term 'steeped in the GAA' comes to mind," he laughs. "I've been with them since 2004 and have enjoyed every minute of it. There have been pressure moments but that's part of my life anyway, I'm with Ballina Stephenites too so I haven't much spare time at this stage of the season."

Indeed, the busy GP is also on the recently-formed Gaelic Doctors Committee which puts an even greater stretch on his resources.

With Grace, his two year-old daughter and six-month-old son, Pat, on the scene, Fergal is lucky that Maria also has a big affinity with Gaelic football. He returns from his GP practice around 6.30pm each evening before linking up with Mayo. With club and county demands, it's almost like having another full-time job.

Fergal's most worrying moment as Mayo doctor came when Dermot Munnelly sustained a head injury against Armagh a couple of seasons ago.

"Dermot was out cold for about two minutes," he recalls. "And I was getting a bit nervous myself on the pitch because I hadn't a pile of back-up. That's why I always look around before matches to check out the first aid facilities and to ensure that an ambulance is nearby. I always bring my own defibrillator to games; it means nothing is left to chance. Intercounty medical facilities are well up to standard but they could be better at club level."

While pressure comes with his territory, he has learned that it arrives in many forms. In a league encounter earlier this season, Dr Ruane spent five minutes trying to get his brother-in-law, John's, contact lenses back in.

"I had no mirror, the wind was howling, making the job even more difficult, and there was mud everywhere as well," he said. "On top of that, I had thousands of angry Dubs roaring at me for holding up the game - now that's a different sort of pressure as well," he laughed.

After graduating from Trinity College in 1998, Dr Ruane qualified as a GP in 2003 and set up practice in Crossmolina with Dr Mick Loftus and Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald. His involvement with the Stephenites led to an invitation to join the county backroom.

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"You face all sorts of complaints," he says, "but I find that the number of players with asthma complaints is definitely increasing for some reason. Educating the younger players about drug testing is also a priority. Overall, our preparation is very scientific now, we even do urine tests on players before games to ensure that they are properly hydrated," he revealed.

As the season progresses, the injuries mount up, but Dr Ruane says he has a responsibility to the players and is very much against giving them pain-killing injections.

"You might give a player an injection into the ankle and he'll be fine for the match but he could do serious damage to himself long-term. If a player faces missing an All-Ireland final, we will consider it, but in general I am against injections. You have to look at the bigger picture; a guy has to get up to work the next day."

As Mayo prepare for Laois, Fergal will complete most of his duties the week before the game. "We monitor hydration, nutrition, injuries and advise on supplements, that sort of stuff. Come match day, I'm not actually that busy and can watch a bit of the game. There's no better place to be."

Next weekend, the players will shape their own destiny against Laois, assured that they are in safe hands - on and off the pitch.


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