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For a lad who started his working life in the building trade, rugby league has really accommodated Barrie McDermott and helped him fulfil his childhood ambition to become a professional sportsman. After a turbulent but brilliant playing career he hung up his boots for good by retiring from the game on the field in 2006 to work off the field with Leeds Rhinos, where to this day as the head of youth development Barrie is passionate and determined that the next generation reaches its potential in the sport just like he did. I really don’t think that the Rhinos could have chosen a better person for the job.
It wasn’t too long ago that youths from the Leeds academy were given a chance to appreciate the opportunities they have thanks to a short visit to the local prison. Behind the bars future stars of rugby league met up with former Leeds Rhinos player Darren Fleary who delivers a physical education to prisoners. We can only hope that the visit planted a seed in most of the young prospects' minds because most of them like Darren will have to one day leave the cocoon that’s Leeds Rhinos and find alternative employment away from the sport.
Darren Fleary for my liking epitomises the positive legacy that stems from playing for the Rhinos first team can do to someone’s life. Whilst I’m not particular informed on Fleary's work in prisons, there’s no doubt in my mind he has changed people’s lives with sport and he will continue to do so for a very long time. In an ideal world players departing from Leeds Rhinos in years to come will spread the winning culture at the club to parts of the city that need it the most.
Away from heading youth development, Barrie works for Sky Sports as a match day pundit and has released an autobiography ‘Made For Rugby’. In the postscript of his book he wrote, “If I had been told on 6 December 1987 that I would go on to have any sort of rugby league career – never mind such an enjoyable one which would influence so many people in a positive way – I doubt I would have believed it”. Well his career continues to go from strength to strength every year and rugby league has only become richer because of this.
If there’s one other thing that Barrie could do then it’s using his media experience to help Keith Senior's and Alex Simmons' radio show Rugby AM fulfil its potential. Barrie has already shown his support by appearing on the show recently but grassroots rugby league media needs some major boosting right now. I think that if Barrie McDermott was a permanent fixture behind the scenes of Rugby AM then he would be the major difference in taking this show to a more professional level.
Whatever Barrie decides to do from here is up to him and I’m 100% behind the decisions he makes. It’s been a joy sharing a life through rugby league with him so far and long may this be the case.
P.S. - The Damo Bit is now on twitter