Dundalk FC were the dominant force in League of Ireland football over the course of 2015, and the double-winning team has been honoured with many team and individual awards over the close season.
One man who may not have received the recognition of those on the field, but certainly played his part in the success, was Athletic Therapist, Sam Rice.
Sam joined up with the Oriel Park backroom team at the start of the season and was delighted with the opportunity to combine his career with his passion for football.
The 24-year-old who runs a clinic in Drogheda, got his first taste of working with a football club when he was with the Shamrock Rovers B team as part of his final year project in DCU where he studied Athletic Therapy and Training.
He also had a work placement with English Championship side, Wolverhampton Wanderers during fourth year, while he also worked with the PFAI FIFPRO team that showcased out-of-contract League of Ireland players in Norway.
When Sam heard there was a vacancy in Dundalk, he didn’t hesitate to put his name forward and after working with the club for a week, he was asked take up the position alongside physio, Fergal Kerin.
“I was delighted to be given the chance by Stephen Kenny and I have to say that I really enjoyed the first year. It couldn’t have gone any better in terms of the team winning the double and getting to feature in the Champions League.
“It really is such a professional set-up with the likes of Stephen Kenny, Vinny Perth, Steve Williams and Fergal, among others, all very dedicated, so you have to match that level of enthusiasm”, explained Sam who studied at DCU from 2010 to 2014.
It is no coincidence that one of the key factors in Dundalk’s League and Cup triumph was the fact that they didn’t suffer with many injuries over the course of the year, and for that Sam and his colleagues must take a lot of credit.
“Over the season we didn’t too many players out with injury and there is always an element of luck with that. The good thing about the players is that they were always ready to take advice and to do the extra bits required to ensure they remained in very good condition”, added Sam.
In being part of such a successful set-up, Sam was not only helping Dundalk FC and gaining valuable experience for himself, but he was very much striking another blow for Athletic Therapists with his contribution to the success.
“I suppose one of the biggest barriers for Athletic Therpists is getting people to understand exactly what we contribute. It is probably due to the fact that it is a relatively new discipline but slowly people are realising what we are about.
“Once people know that we have a high level of knowledge and that we specialise on sport, that is exactly what teams and organisations want. You have to remember that we go through a very tough four-year course to qualify and get lots of hands-on experience along the way. The lecturers are highly qualified and the likes of Enda Whyte, Miriam Downey and Noel McCaffrey have been a brilliant help to me along the way”, added Sam.
On a lighter note, Sam had another barrier to overcome when he arrived in Oriel Park, as being from a rival town in Drogheda, he had to endure some good-natured banter along the way.
“I am often referred to as the ‘Drogheda Physio’, but at this stage I think I have been accepted and I have to say it is a great community to work in”, he added.