Sport Gaelic Football

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Lyng comes back stronger after enduring trials and tribulations

A difficult sojourn in English soccer has shaped Ciarán Lyng's positive attitude, writes Marie Crowe

Before Ciarán Lyng moved to Preston North End to embark on a career as a professional footballer, he got some advice from John O'Shea's father. His son had been down the same road the teenager was about to travel so he knew how it all worked.

Jim O'Shea told him not to rush, to stay at home and do his Leaving Cert and if he is good enough, they will still want him.

But at the time Lyng felt he knew best and going to England was what he wanted to do. Growing up he played soccer in the winter for Wexford Celtic, and in the summer he concentrated on Gaelic games. At 14, he was called into the Wexford youth academy and from there he went on to make the Ireland under 16 team.

Most young players who make the national team get noticed by scouts from overseas and it was no different for Lyng. He had a few offers on the back of his international appearances and he eventually settled on Preston North End.

Lyng spent three years at the club but his career didn't pan out the way he had planned. It's an all-too-familiar tale: young Irish kid goes to England full of hope and promise, managers come and go and kid falls by the wayside. David Moyes was on his way to Everton when Lyng arrived so there was no opportunity for the teenager to make an impression on him.

Next came Craig Brown. He liked Lyng and the future began to look bright for the Wexford player. He was selected for a first-team trip to Ibiza, started two games there and was involved in all the pre-season training.

It almost seemed too good to be true and a few days after they returned from Ibiza, it was. Brown was fired and Billy Davies, the reserve manager, took over. And this appointment didn't bode well for Lyng.

"He didn't have any fondness for me whatsoever," says Lyng. "But it was a mutual thing. I was devastated when he got the job because I knew exactly what that meant for me."

And Lyng's instincts were right: he immediately fell out of favour at Preston and ended up going to Shrewsbury on loan for almost eight months. He never really settled there, making just four appearances for the first team before getting injured. He had a year left on his contract but wasn't getting a look-in; he had some trial offers for clubs elsewhere but instead decided to call it a day.

It wasn't an easy decision for him to make -- failure or even perceived failure is a very hard thing to deal with when you are still a teenager. He thought about moving to America but his brother Diarmuid (Gizzy) convinced him that coming home was the right thing to do. Although Lyng has learned a lot from his experiences in England, he is slow to recommend it to anyone.

"You just don't know enough about anything to go over to England at 16 and be independent," said Lyng. "When I was making my decision I thought 'sure it's grand for John O'Shea at Manchester United', but that doesn't happen to everyone. But looking back now, the Hunts and Kevin Doyle were over 20 when they went over, they knew a bit about themselves and they knew a bit about soccer. Whereas I didn't know anything when I went over. It was a trial-and-error process for me."

The first six months back in Wexford were tough going. Lyng left soccer behind him when he finished in Preston and has not played a competitive game since. He returned to school to prepare to sit the Leaving Cert. It took a while but after a few months he took a few tentative steps back towards Gaelic games. He went down to the club a few times with his brothers before eventually rejoining his former team.

"Football came back to me first and then hurling so I ended up focusing on the football. Going back to school and returning to football were steps I needed to take to get over the sense of failure."

It didn't take long for the powers that be in Wexford to notice the talented forward and after winning the intermediate championship with his club Martin's, Paul Bealin called him into the senior inter-county football squad. He took to the new set-up immediately even though it was very different to what he'd been accustomed to.

"There is no real need for man-management in soccer; if a player isn't doing the job that he is being paid a lot of money to do, he will be replaced, the manager will just go out and find someone that will do it, sign him up and get rid of the player who isn't performing. But in GAA man-management is vital. It's an amateur game; you need someone to come in and point out to players what they are doing wrong and tell them how they can improve.

"The squads in GAA are a lot closer knit even though they spend less time together than soccer teams too. It's because of all the money soccer players get; they are all individuals, that's why I think Alex Ferguson is so amazing at what he does. His players are on massive money yet they still live and die for their team."

He got a call from the Wexford hurling manager too and trained alongside his brother Gizzy for a while before deciding that being a dual player was taking on too much.

Wexford didn't make much of an impact in the championship in Lyng's first year but when Jason Ryan took over a year later that all changed. They won Division 3 and reached their first Leinster final in over 50 years. Despite suffering a 23-point defeat to Dublin, it was a good year for Wexford and for Lyng. After losing to Dublin they went on to hammer Down in the qualifiers and beat Armagh in the quarter-final but lost out to eventual All-Ireland final winners Tyrone in the semi-final.

Along the way they shocked Meath by coming from ten points down to win their Leinster quarter-final and easily got the better of Laois in the semi-final. After such a memorable season, though, 2009 was one of great disappointment. Kildare disposed of them in the Leinster championship and Roscommon knocked them out of the qualifiers.

"One of the things we struggled with in 2009 was the lack of competition for places, said Lyng. "If lads had played well the year before they were basically walking into a spot on the team but that's all changed now because of all the under 21 players coming in."

They bounced back last year and forced Dublin to extra-time in the Leinster championship and beat London and Galway in the qualifiers before coming undone against Cork, the eventual All-Ireland champions, again. They didn't come close to the success of two years earlier, but they still put in a solid effort.

The end of that year saw the retirement of their talisman Matty Forde. Lyng played in the forward line with him for three years and regards him as the best player he

ever played with. Two backs were

often tasked with marking Forde leaving Lyng free to get some scores. It happened so often that Wexford frequently worked it into their game plan. When he left it was a time of mixed emotions for Lyng.

"People forget that you spend five nights a week together, you actually spend more time with them than you do with your own family. It was a massive loss personally but it was also an opportunity to step into the void left. The responsibility fell from Matty to a group of players and that's been good for the team."

Although Wexford have come through the weaker side of the Leinster championship draw, they have still managed to rack up 7-52. Their forwards have come into their own with the likes of Lyng, Ben Brosnan and Redmond Barry really stepping up to the plate. Dublin's full-back line has only leaked one goal so far this championship but Lyng isn't too worried as he has plenty of experience with the Dublin personnel.

"I played Sigerson football in UCD with Ross O'Carroll and Mick Fitzsimons and I know them pretty well but once the game starts the friendships will be put aside until the final whistle is blown."

Today is another big day for Lyng but at this stage he is used to them. Whether it's competing as a professional footballer overseas or kicking frees into Hill 16, experience has taught Lyng to take it in his stride. And from his steady improvement and consistent displays over the last few years in the Wexford jersey, it's clear he does just that.

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