Colin Ryan: ‘We live and die by the standards we set ourselves'
Colin Ryan reckons that Clare's mid-season turmoil has helped to embellish the unity within a squad fragmented by departures
Colin Ryan should easily relate to the rise, fall and rise again of English golfer Justin Rose.
Rose finished fourth as a 17-year-old amateur in the Open Championship in 1998, a stunning performance from one so young in such challenging environment.
He quickly turned pro but was almost beaten into submission by a succession of 21 missed cuts in a subsequent four-year period. Rose didn't yield, however, and was able to get his promising career back on track, eventually winning the 2013 US Open.
Ryan might look at a four-year block of his career after a similarly spectacular debut at the top level in 2009 and feel there were a few 'missed cuts' for him too.
After hitting 0-12 on his Championship debut against Tipperary in the 2009 Munster semi-final in Limerick's Gaelic Grounds - a day when he was one of three Newmarket players making their first starts at this level - Ryan's light too quickly extinguished.
The head-wind of a nine-match losing sequence from the 2008 Munster final to a 2012 qualifier against Dublin in Ennis took too firm a hold for Ryan to plant his feet.
He didn't score in Clare's subsequent 2009 qualifier defeat to Galway and didn't manage to play a full match in any of the three subsequent years. In seven appearances he managed just two-thirds of the tally he accumulated on his very first day out.
There was an All-Ireland U-21 title in 2009 to sustain him but those four years arguably made Ryan the hurler he is today.
On Sunday a Clare team shorn of some of their most experienced players - Conor McGrath is an injury doubt, Brendan Bugler is suspended while Colm Galvin has gone to the US - will look to the guiding hand of the 27-year-old.
His transformation throughout 2013 has given him that status within the squad, 0-70 in their Championship campaign, 0-58 in the League providing a consistent scoring stream for the fledgling future champions.
But since then they have waded through troubled waters, a sequence of six League/Championship games without a win only coming to an end when they beat Dublin with their backs to the wall in Ennis back in March.
Two subsequent narrow defeats to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park have portrayed the team in much better light after a controversial spring.
"The end result was disappointing but the performances in the last two games spoke volumes for the players," Ryan recalls, "especially the way we came together and worked hard for one another.
"Not much will be read into them come the end of the year, but we needed performances to go in the right direction.
"And during the League those performances were going in the right direction - even though the results weren't. But the League probably served its purpose."
The fall-out over the departure of two players - Davy O'Halloran and Nicky O'Connell - for refusing to adhere to a schedule of punitive measures for an alleged breach of discipline - tested morale and their strength of unity. O'Connell subsequently returned after the League and Ryan sensed that the players were steeled by what was going on around them.
"Our performances showed how tight we are as a unit," he says. "We made our statement. We set ourselves high standards and we live or die by those. Things were said, things were done and we're happy to move forward as a group.
"Nicky's a great lad. He came back. Davy (Fitzgerald) is as fair as anything - he offered to take him back and he came back with no qualms. He's worked his way back in, and there's nothing to say Nicky won't see action against Limerick."
Ryan attributes a poor defence of their All-Ireland title last year to mental and physical fatigue.
"We're not Kilkenny, who seem to have it down to a tee. We're not used to doing that every year," he accepts.
"Would we have changed what we did? We probably wouldn't, but we'd be more prepared. Mentally and physically, fatigue probably set in. We were going to the end of September that year, then we had club championship.
"We took it upon ourselves to take the League really seriously when it might have been in our best interests to lighten off a small bit. Decision were made and we were all happy with them at the time."
With Galvin gone and Pat Donnellan a contender to return to the half-back line - especially if Conor Ryan is ruled out with injury - it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Colin Ryan will see action at midfield.
Galvin has gone to the States for the summer with his colleagues' blessing.
"He's young and when these lads come on to the scene so young, it's hard for them to devote every hour they have to hurling," says Ryan.
"They could turn around at 30 and say, 'I've never been to America'. We wish him well. The worst thing he could do would be not to go if he wanted to. Staying around would be worse in that case.
"The young lads, the likes of Tony Kelly, they're as happy not to go. I'd say to them to go and live their lives, it's not the end of the world. There is life after hurling and there's life before hurling too. You must make the decision that's right for yourself."
As a teacher in the Salesian College in Pallaskenry, he is well acquainted with the rivalry between Clare and Limerick.
"A lot of the lads are in college together in Limerick. There are so many Clare people working and living in Limerick, and vice versa," he says.
"The niggle is there all the time. Having this game to start the Munster Championship is really something to look forward to."