Thursday 14 December 2017

Ryan's model love affair still burning with desire

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

If it's good enough for Chelsea then it's good enough for Wexford. Or should that be the other way around?

The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge makes the 33-year-old Portuguese the youngest manager in the Premier League. The flourish of youth obviously outweighs the clear risks involved in making such an appointment in the mind of Roman Abramovich.

For Wexford football, the risk in appointing an unheralded 31-year-old who had never managed an inter-county team before, has already been rewarded.

A second Leinster final appearance in four years represents smart value for a county that hadn't been to one in the previous 42 years.

Four years on, Jason Ryan never thought he would spend as long with them. He's made two good attempts to get away from the post and each time he has been drawn helplessly back. Now he can see a day coming when they may have to break his heart instead of him breaking theirs.

Ryan came into the the job on the back of his 2007 Wexford club success with Clongeen thinking that two years would be sufficient before he would return to playing club football in Waterford, where he lives and works.

If life's balances allow him then he'd like to continue on beyond 2011, such is the enjoyment he extracts from what he does. But he appreciates that Wexford may need the change more than he does.

"I would love to continue. I would love it. But it would depend on balancing up things in your life. Also, whether you're the right person for the job," he reflected.

"The guys, you spend so much time with them. They're not being paid to train. They're not being paid to play. So you don't have that way of motivating them by saying: 'Look, you've got be there. You have got to do this'.

"You have got to make them want to come and to work with you. There is probably a stage where you're past your best-before date and you need somebody else to come in and freshen up everyone.

"Knowing when is the best time to walk away is the thing. I don't know. After the mistakes I made last year saying I was going to go, I'll never make a remark like that again. I'll take it one year at a time. It's up to the board at the end of the day. They can say: 'Thanks very much, but goodbye.' And unlike Villas-Boas there is no severance!"

Ryan's innate desire to remain with Wexford was reflected after 2010 when his wife Suzanne extended a career break from work by an extra year to spend more time with their two young children, Joss and Eva. But in their back of their minds, too, was Wexford.

"It (Wexford) was a big factor. But then it gave Suzanne more time to spend with the kids so it was probably a combination of both. My desire to get back to work (with Wexford) pushed her on even more to try and do it.

"It did look like I was getting out. I made a decision. At the end of year two I said one more year and that's it. But then, I don't know is it an addiction or anything like that, but everything that goes with it.

"The games are brilliant. When you are working with a group of guys, focused on getting better, they're improving, willing to learn, it's a great buzz. It's a great feeling to be among them. For someone to say that you can't do that any more, that you are going to walk away from it, I would have found it hard.

"I went back to the county board and I said: 'I would really like to do this for another year please'."

They've had to deal with the departure of Matty Forde, the iconic figure of Wexford football for the last decade, but the strength of character within the squad is something Ryan has always felt that maybe others from a distance wouldn't necessarily see.

"We still have a lot of very strong characters. All the remaining lads from the 2008 squad are very strong characters and keeping them there was vital, so I don't think the team dynamic has changed too much," he said.


"They're a very close-knit group. You hear about teams going away for team building and team bonding, but our group has bonded very well together. At times you would be thinking, 'maybe they're too close'.

"That's something that has improved over time, the realisation that no matter how close you are to someone, if they're not doing something in a certain way or pulling their weight, you need to say it to them."

He continues to delegate many duties on the training field to his coaches, Mick Casey and Diarmuid O'Hanlon, who have been with him throughout, while the former Wexford player John Hegarty is now forwards coach.

"The training that Diarmuid, Mick and John are doing is what we think is best now, so it is constantly evolving and constantly changing. The training we're doing now is light years away from what we were doing in 2008.

"It's a totally different content, totally different everything. It's just shows that sport is constantly evolving."

He appreciates that Dublin have an unfair advantage with their use of Croke Park as a home base during the league helping them to familiarise themselves even more with the style of play they want to execute.

He also acknowledges that Bernard Brogan is as close to unmarkable as any forward is.

"They are probably fitter, physically stronger, capable of scoring even more goals, which is scary because they scored loads of them in 2008. They have an awful lot of experience. They have a very good defensive style of play. Defensively they are probably stronger than they were in 2008.

"I would say in Bernard Brogan they have a forward who is capable of unlocking any defence. It doesn't matter if there is a sweeper playing in front of him or if he is double-marked, they are very formidable.

"Croke Park is an advantage to Dublin. If they played their league games in Parnell Park, they're playing on a smaller stage. They're playing on a smaller pitch. They are used to playing there, getting players behind the ball in that arena.

"When you go to Croke Park, it's so big that it's harder to execute in that space. Whereas now, they have had the whole National League to get that bit better, to be comfortable in where they need to be at whatever given time.

"Is it an unfair advantage? Of course it is. But it's there, it is what it is. I'm definitely not complaining about it, but it will be an advantage to them. Just as much as we love having teams play against us in Wexford Park, Dublin have that with Croke Park."

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