BATLEY and Dewsbury favourite Tom Hemingway has looked back on his career after being forced to retire through injury.
The 32-year-old finishes his third spell with the Bulldogs and also enjoyed four seasons with the Rams. He has had to call it a day on medical grounds after a serious neck injury which requires an operation.
“Any serious impact could lead to some serious paralysis so it’s best staying clear. It’s not worth the risk at all,” he said.
“I already really struggle with pins and needles in my left side, with really bad nerve damage, and the club decided it’s the best thing to do as well.”
Injuries are a common theme that have blighted his career – indeed, he had been advised by a doctor to retire almost a decade ago after requiring a third shoulder reconstruction in four difficult years while at Huddersfield.
Hemingway began his professional career with the Giants, making his debut in 2005 as an 18-year-old after the Dewsbury Moor junior first signed as a scholar at the age of 12.
He had enjoyed considerable success in his junior days, winning national school and amateur titles before going on to earn England honours at under-15 and under-16 level, as well as representing Yorkshire.
The young half-back entered the professional arena as a hot prospect and even had offers from Australia, but injuries meant that he was never able to fully realise that promise and play regularly for Huddersfield.
He said: “I was just blighted by injury there. I had three shoulder reconstructions and double knee operations, and it took me a long time to recover. It’s been the story of my career really.”
Nevertheless, he did have the opportunity to enjoy some of the biggest occasions in rugby league, although he revealed how close he was to actually playing for Huddersfield in the 2006 Challenge Cup final at Twickenham.
“Looking back, the Challenge Cup final was pretty special to be a part of. Up until the day before I was supposed to play, and I would only have been 19 at that point,” said Hemingway.
“Playing in the Millennium Stadium against Warrington in the Magic Weekend was a pretty special moment as well.”
After leaving Huddersfield he moved to Blackpool Panthers in 2010, where he earned himself a unique place in the rugby league record books by kicking 22 conversions out of 22 in a 132-0 drubbing of Gateshead Thunder.
That matched the all-time record for goals in a game set by the great Wigan full-back Jim Sullivan in 1925, although Hemingway has the record for most consecutive goals in a match as Sullivan also missed kicks.
“It should be in the Guinness Book of Records; I’ve never chased it up but I remember everyone saying at the time that’s part of the world record. It hasn’t been beaten and I can’t really see it being beaten with that kind of score. That was a special moment, something to tell the grandkids!”
Blackpool folded at the end of that season and Hemingway admits that he was “pretty disillusioned with the game” at that point. He returned to amateur rugby with his hometown side Birstall Victoria before being picked up by Featherstone, but once again injuries robbed him of the chance to shine.
“It was awful because just as I got in the team I broke my jaw, and I broke it three separate times in the space of 15 months,” he said. “Every time I came back it just kept breaking again. I did it in training, I did in a game, and every time I tried to make a comeback it just went again. It was horrendous.”
In 2013 he signed up at Batley – where he had enjoyed a brief loan spell while with Huddersfield – and helped them reach the Championship Grand Final before four years at Dewsbury.
“We went to the Grand Final and I managed to stay injury-free and play most of the rounds that year. That was one of those years when I’d recovered enough to have a good season,” he said.
“It was special although we didn’t get the win at the end. I didn’t play in the semi-final and final which was gutting, and subsequently I left to go to Dewsbury and stayed there for four seasons.
“I was playing some of my best rugby when I was at Dewsbury under Glenn Morrison. I was playing in the halves when I first went there and then played in the hooking role too for most of that. I loved it there and we had a brilliant team, and we did well for a couple of years.”
Hemingway’s departure from the Rams came at a difficult time after losing his mum to cancer. He returned to Batley last year, but once again he was hampered by a succession of injuries which have now seen him call it a day.
He expressed his gratitude to supporters and in particular his family, saying: “Fans at every club I’ve been to have been fantastic, and I want to thank my family who have really supported me throughout my career.”
Currently living in Drighlington, his work continues as a painter and decorator and he has four-year-old son Frank to look after, but he hopes to return to rugby at some stage.
“I’m putting it to one side for now but I would like to give back, however that may be,” he said. “I’ve got enough friends in the game to go back and help on a coaching level.”