Interview with Westfield Matildas Doctor James Ilic

Being made redundant isn’t what one would normally aim for in a job, but that’s what Westfield Matildas doctor James ‘Doc’ Ilic is aiming for throughout these Olympic Qualifiers...

Being made redundant isn-t what one would normally aim for in a job, but that-s what Westfield Matildas doctor James ‘Doc- Ilic is aiming for throughout these Olympic Qualifiers. For him, a good day is not being called upon, because it means there aren-t any illnesses or injuries.

Ilic did not, touchwood, have to do too much work in the recent Women-s World Cup, with all players bar one (Tameka Butt, who had a slight hamstring injury and required an MRI) fit and able to play.

He was called into action briefly here in China to assist striker Sam Kerr after she sustained a knee injury during training. She-s now back in Australia receiving further treatment and Ilic is hoping for two from two major injury-free tournaments.

An absence of injuries, of course, provides head coach Tom Sermanni with a selection headache. But Girls FC know for a fact that he-s not complaining. That-s not to say that Ilic isn-t doing any work—this trip isn-t a holiday. We sat down with Ilic to find out how he passes his time.

A typical day, Ilic says, involves him getting up and going for a run, then attending training with the players, and popping in and out of the physios- treatment room to see which players are being treated and for what.

Does Ilic ever joined in the training with the players? ‘No,- he says, laughing. ‘One: I need to be observing. And two: I can-t play football. I come from the southern states and that was not the game I grew up with. But even if I could play, my job is to be available on the sidelines.-

So what-s he looking for during training?

‘We-re aware of players going in to training carrying slight injuries, whether it-s muscle tightness or a slight ligament injury. I certainly keep an eye on them during training and chat regularly to the physios and make a judgement of when someone-s had enough,- he says. ‘We obviously look for new injuries that occur during training, and we-ve also got a monitoring system where we get a reasonable indication of player workloads.-

Girls FC have noticed Ilic works closely with physiotherapists Kate Beerworth, Lauren Cramer, and Chris Hampel (in fact, Beerworth and Hampel also work at Ilic-s sports medicine clinics in Adelaide).

‘There-s a sort of sequence of events,- Ilic says of assessing and treating players. ‘When someone gets injured, the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. Once that-s made, the next step is to work out a treatment and rehabilitation protocol, which, to a large extent, the physios map out. When we think a player is sufficiently rehabilitated, we get them back into training. And then they need a period of conditioning before they-re cleared to play.-

Physical injuries we often see, but how hard is it to gauge the recovery—the sleep, the nutrition, the hydration?

‘We have a monitoring system for sleep and wellness. We also monitor players- hydration with fairly regular urine tests, particularly on match morning,- he says. ‘We monitor their weights, which helps with checking hydration. I monitor the food—as a general rule we maintain a low-fat diet.-

Ah, the food. Girls FC love the buffet and are extremely tempted to go back for seconds and thirds. Ilic agrees, but has some sound advice.

‘It-s difficult when you-re touring because you eat a lot more than you-d normally eat,- he says. ‘We have three meals a day and they can quite easily become three three-course meals a day. So we have to just be reminding the players regularly to try and eat as close to home as they possibly can. And also keep an eye on the quality of the meals and that they-re fairly low fat.

‘I think the first one or two days you tend to eat more than you normally do,- he says, ‘but after that you get into a pattern of eating. For me personally I don-t stay too long down there. I eat and get out.-

Girls FC will have to try that.

He also has some strategies for ensuring that players don-t pick up any potentially debilitating bugs while on tour. Players:

• only eat in the hotel • carry bottled water with them at all times • brush their teeth with bottled water • use alcohol-based hand wash before every meal • don-t share food or drinks • for certain venues and certain competitions, use probiotics with all meals, which reduces the chance of picking up stomach bugs.

That mention of probiotics reminds us of a question we wanted to ask: Is it tricky to get the medical equipment and drugs on the plane?

‘Surprisingly not,- Ilic says. ‘Because you travel with a team, most airport officials are pretty good about it. I do carry a list if people want to see it, but you rarely get asked. Probably 80% of the luggage I carry is medical. But on any given tour, probably 90% of that 80% I don-t use.-

That medical equipment includes stabilising splints, moon boots, and crutches. They were called into use when Lisa De Vanna broke her leg in the 2010 Asian Cup. They gathered dust in Germany. We-re hoping they-ll gather more dust in China. But, Ilic notes, injuries aside, with five matches in 11 days in China, recovery through good nutrition, hydration, and ice baths will be absolutely key.

So how does Ilic pass the time if his services aren-t required? He doesn-t actually have as much down time as we-ve made out. Sometimes even the apparently small things take a lot more time overseas, so even when he-s not technically ‘busy-, he actually is.

For example, obtaining an MRI for a player might take half a day by the time they-ve organised for the scan to take place, co-ordinated transport and the team liaison officer to accompany them to translate, waited for and then had the scan, and then waited to look at the results and, if necessary, talked to other medical personnel and treated the player. But if he-s not needed, there-s the aforementioned spending time in the physios- treatment room, and he plays cards with the staff. It is, Ilic says, also a good social downtime.

For our final question, Girls FC couldn-t resist asking whether Ilic has, through his travels, ever needed to heed the call: ‘Is there a doctor on the plane?-

Turns out he has, a few times. ‘Usually by the time get there, though, two or three others are already there,- he says. ‘A couple of times I-ve been the only one, and you do what you can do. Once a passenger had collapsed, but in fact he was drunk and fell over.-

Of the treatment options available to him on the plane, he says: ‘You-re a bit restricted because you-re very limited as to what you can carry on a plane now days. They have a defibrillator, but the equipment in general is very basic.-

So it-s first aid-ish?

‘Very much,- he says. ‘You-re effectively a well-qualified first aider.-

Here-s hoping Ilic-s skills aren-t called upon in the coming days, either at the Olympic Qualifiers or on the plane.