Friday 22 November 2019

A dynasty that's steeped in the black and amber

Johnny Ryan who lost his life to a farming accident on the home farm in Clara, Co Kilkenny
Johnny Ryan who lost his life to a farming accident on the home farm in Clara, Co Kilkenny

The Ryan family has long been steeped in the magnificent Kilkenny and Clara hurling tradition, while also making a big contribution to the broader GAA landscape.

It reached a glorious peak in late September last year, when Lester Ryan strode up the steps of the Hogan Stand as Kilkenny captain to receive the Liam MacCarthy Cup after Kilkenny's replay win over Tipperary.

As with Michael Fennelly, Kilkenny captain in 2009, Ryan didn't make the starting team for the final but was sent on by Brian Cody late in the game, thus enjoying the honour of having led the team on the pitch on the big day. It was a role in which he revelled.

The fact that such a talented player could not force his way into the starting 15 underlined the sheer strength of the Kilkenny panel in a year when they swept the title boards with wins in the Walsh Cup, Allianz League, Leinster and All-Ireland championships.

His post-All-Ireland speech, delivered in Irish, captured the mood perfectly in what was a superb day for the 26-year old teacher and his family.

Indeed, his speech has gone down as one of the most memorable of modern times. But then, it was something he had practised as a kid in the hope that his dream would come true some day.

Lester's brother, Liam won a Walsh Cup medal with Kilkenny last spring.

Kilkenny are one of the few counties who maintain the tradition of choosing the captain from the reigning county champions, an honour that fell to Lester Ryan following Clara's success in 2013.

He was one of three brothers on the team that day as the club ended a 27-year wait for a county title.

It was another special occasion for the late Johnny Ryan, who played at centre-back on the successful 1986 Clara team, while his brothers Kevin and Lester were at right half-back and left full-forward respectively.

A club player of considerable stature, Johnny was a key figure in the march to glory in 1986.

Johnny later enjoyed some memorable days with the Kilkenny Masters teams, winning four All-Ireland titles in 1995 (as captain), 1997, '98 and '99.

He played at centre-back in all four finals. His dedication to the Kilkenny cause so late in his career spoke volumes about his passion for the black and amber and the game he loved since his childhood.

Always deeply immersed in all activities in the Clara club, he took huge pride in the exploits of his sons, especially in 2013 when they did so much to win the county title.

His brothers Lester and Harry enjoyed excellent careers with Kilkenny. Harry won an All-Ireland medal from left half-forward in 1983 and also picked up Leinster and National League honours. Lester won Leinster and National League medals in 1986 and added another Leinster medal in 1987 before Kilkenny were beaten by Galway in the All-Ireland final.

Kilkenny have withdrawn from the Walsh Cup as a mark of respect to a much-loved hurling man and his family.

They were due to play NUI Galway on Friday night and Carlow on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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